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Peter Rowan lives off "Legacy"

Johnny D's, Somerville, Mass., November 16, 2010

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Peter Rowan has been around for very long time, long enough that about 45 years ago, he joined Bill Monroe to be one of his Bluegrass Boys. But Rowan is not resting on past accomplishments these days. He released the very fine "Legacy" disc with the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band a few months ago and now is touring with the same backing trio who helped make the music.

Rowan, fortunately, was more than happy to play a good chunk of his new music, almost all of which he wrote, starting with the catchy Jailer, Jailer. In fact, the first seven songs played were from the new disc. The group ended up laying 10 of 13 songs from "Legacy" and with good reason because the songs stood up very well in different configurations.

Rowan very occasionally missed a few notes and worked best when he kept his singing softer.

He also was not afraid to rely on his band with Jody Stecher on mandolin, Keith Little on banjo and Paul Knight on upright bass. The three also play on "Legacy."

Stecher, in particular, was simply stellar. He is a veteran, who knows his way around the instrument. He contribute the instrumental Lord Hamilton's Yearling from the new CD during the encore and lead vocals on Catfish Blues. Little took a turn on lead vocals on Let Me Walk Lord by Your Side, with pretty four-part harmony on the gospel song. Acoustic guitar from Rowan and Stecher's mandolin spearheaded the sonics.

Rowan reached back in time by playing The Walls of Time, a song he wrote with Bill Monroe. This song was typical of the evening where Rowan changed it up musical going with two-part harmony and banjo featured. Rowan changed the songs up just enough to keep the show going strong.

Rowan also was not your typical bluegrasser. While he paid homage to Monroe and Ralph Stanley, playing Little Maggie from Dr. Ralph Stanley, Blue Moon of Kentucky from Monroe and the traditional In the Pines, he also went back into his own catalogue with an extended version of Moonlight Midnight, which even extended into the encore. Rowan also embraced his days spent playing with Jerry Garcia by incorporating songs that sounded like the Dead could have played them.

Across the Rolling Hills (Padmasambhava) was the closing song of the generous 110-minute show, dedicating it to the people of Tibet. The song with Rowan chanting the word "Padmasambhava" and all four band members around the mic was a fitting end to the night.

Rowan may have a bunch of decades under his belt - he's 68 - but the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band showed they have a lot left in the tank.

The opening act Elizabeth Cook, set a great table for Rowan. She is a traditional country singer from Nashville with a few twists and turns. The Sirius satellite radio DJ has one great voice with a tremendous amount of twang heard both in singing and speaking The Florida native uses both to her advantage.

Back at the same club for the second time in five months, Cook performed as a trio with her husband, Tim Carroll, on guitar and tall bassist Bones Hillman, who once upon a time was a member of Aussie rock band Midnight Oil. Cook let Carroll take vocals on a few songs. Carroll did a good job though he was nowhere as expressive as his wife. OnTGV, a song about trains in France, Cook receded to the background to change into tap shoes, put a board down and started tapping away. The exhibition was a lively addition to Cook's time on stage.

Cook played a bunch of songs from her very fine 2010 release "Welder." The most heartfelt was Mama's Funeral, written after her mother's death in 2008. Other standouts were the ballad Girlfriend Tonight and a cover of Frank Miller's Blackland Farmer.

Cook, who has logged about 300 Grand Ole Opry appearances in 10 years, may have made Nashville home, but she sure hasn't fall into the trap of being part of hit making machinery. She's great just the way she is.