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Waiting for The Knitters proves well worth it

The Paradise, Boston, August 11, 2005

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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The long wait for The Knitters - two decades - was well worth it.

The Knitters, in effect, a country offshoot of influential punk band X, can't exactly be accused of being the most prolific group around. After all, they just released their second album, "Modern Sounds of The Knitters," last month on Rounder, only 20 years after their debut, "Poor Little Critter on the Road," was released.

But they have made up for it with two strong albums and a lively, engaging 100-minute concert before about 500 faithful fans. They were not your typical country crowd. Tattoos were very prevalent to folks probably more interested in seeing X, but taking the next best thing.

The Knitters are similar to X in that lead singers Exene Cervenka and John Doe are the focal points. Doe, for example, started off on acoustic guitar accompanied only by ace guitarist Dave Alvin. Doe gave a quick demonstration in Singing 101 with the lead off "Silver Wings." With the music spare, Doe had better deliver vocally, and he sure did with his full-sounding, rich voice here and throughout the evening.

After a few songs, the whole band - DJ Bonebrake on drums, Jonny Ray Bartel on bass and Exene - also came on stage.

While basically a country band, there is a strong rockabilly bent to the music thanks to Alvin, who was an ace on guitar. The guy simply can play tasteful, tuneful licks suffusing the music with needed energy.

Bonebrake was very steady behind a very spare drum set, playing the lone drum with a brush. And Bartels helped firm up the rhythm section on upright bass.

While side projects often could be more a of a vanity affair, band members took the music seriously with occasional banter between Doe and Cervenka keeping the mood a bit lighter. They use the vocal interplay with The Knitters much as they do with X. While not exactly recalling Dolly and Porter, George and Tammy or Faith and Tim, they have a vocal rapport, which while not the prettiest, does work.

The show was a combo of new material, covers (particularly effective was The Stanley's "Rank Stranger," where Doe once again displayed his singing chops) and X songs done by The Knitters the group re-recorded with a country beat. Concert highlights were "Burning House of Love" and "The New World."

Based on this show, let's hope that The Knitters will see fit to spread their wings around the country from here on out.