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The Wronglers with Gilmore: a fun night of old music

Club Passim, Cambridge, MA, September 15, 2011

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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The Wronglers are not your typical group for a few reasons. First off, how many bands can claim the former head of Lehmann Brothers as among their members. A 77-year-old banjo player (Warren Hellman) with a Harvard Business School degree as well?

But the group really started gaining traction a few months ago thanks to their disc "Heirloom Music," which features Jimmie Dale Gilmore as the lead vocalist handling a bunch of covers.

Now, the zen-like Gilmore doesn't quite seem like the Lehmann Brothers type, but on disc and in concert, that proved no problem whatsoever. Turns out that the two main players met at the Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco (that's before it became the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival) founded by none other than venture capitalist Hellman.

"Heirloom music" is a good description of what the band plays, which is a combination of old time and bluegrass music with some country thrown in.

Having Gilmore anchor the vocals, of course, was a huge plus. The chatty Austinite was in fine form vocally, covering a good chunk of the CD including such songs as the Bill Monroe's Footprints in the Snow (Monroe recorded it, but didn't write it), AP Carter's Foggy Mountain Top and Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Gilmore also sang a few songs he has recorded including Hank Williams' I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry. The Wronglers and Gilmore split the difference on the bouncy Deep Ellum Blues, as Gilmore previously recorded it, but so did The Wronglers for this project.

Hellman took a turn on vocals a few times. Okay, he definitely didn't have the smoothest voice, but he delivered the material with a sense of humor (especially Whyte Laydie, a song about his banjo, which he gave to his son in law, who later became his ex-SIL, who later apparently sold the banjo, which incredibly found its way back to Hellman). Perhaps most importantly for Hellman, one got the sense that this was a chance for him to have some fun out on the road and bring out some good music.

The Wronglers are seven strong and were also aided by guitarist Rob Gjersoe. Colleen Browne was stellar as a backing, sometimes harmony singing vocalist. Krista Martin added many good fiddle runs as well.

Gilmore indicated that the stars were aligned for the project. While this very well could have been a one-off project for Gilmore and band, it provided the full house with a night to enjoy classics coming alive once more.