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Della Mae tours Cambridge (sic)

Club Passim, Cambridge, Mass., June 3, 2013

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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At some point during the first first of two shows on this evening by Della Mae, fiddle player Kimber Ludiker joked that the all-female quintet was on its world tour of Cambridge. The group played a tiny club Saturday night, had two shows at this venerable club tonight, one more at a rock club nearby tomorrow and a day-time tour linked with food stops also on Tuesday.

Chances are that this band, fresh off a very fine new disc, need not worry about breaking outside of Cambridge.

This was one excellent outing as part of a series of CD release shows in the Boston area celebrating "This World Oft Can Be," its first release for Rounder and second overall.

Quite simply, the bluegrass-based band fired on all fronts.

First off was that these five individuals were of high quality. That started with dynamic lead singer Celia Woodsmith, the only New Englander in the bunch (she's originally from Norwich, Vt.). Woodsmith proved to be an expressive singer with a high degree of believability. She breathed much emotion into the lyrics (Maybeline), most of which she wrote, without sounding overwrought or overdoing it ever.

Woodsmith was not alone as a vocalist either. She had help on lead vocals from mandolin player Jenni Lynn Gardner on one song and acoustic guitarist and banjo player Courtney Hartman on several. It's the kind of situation that in other bands, maybe each would take lead vocals. Here, it had the effect of keeping the show quite engaging because of the diversity of Della Mae.

That was also underscored by other members of the band. Tall upright bassist Shelby Means was active. Each member had a chance to shine on their respective instrument, including Ludiker, who was the focal point of the one instrumental played (Spider Bit the Baby).

As part of the different configurations, the band mixed it up with backing vocals as well. Often, it was two or three different singers, but just who would participate - and affect the sound - varied.

It wasn't just the band members, who made for a night of great music. It was also the songs. Della Mae was certainly helped by a batch of well put together songs, which enjoyed enough variety with different instruments highlighted, even the style of backing vocals (real nice on the only cover on the new disc, Pine Tree, from Sarah Siskind) to easily maintain listener interest. The sounds varied from the fast-paced Letter From Down the Road/And Other Songs to the more subdued, but beautiful sounding Ain't No Ash Will Burn.

Della Mae, of course, has played outside its home base of the Boston area. In fact, in November, the band hit a bunch of the Stans, as in Uzbekistan, on a government sponsored trip to bring its music overseas.

Hartman may have joked about the grand tour of Cambridge, which continues on Wednesday. But one was left with a funny feeling that the hometown hibernation will be very temporary.

The duo of guitarist Mark Erelli, a long-time member of Lori McKenna's band, and Charlie Rose opened with a short, but engaging half-hour set. Each took turns on lead vocals with Erelli on the typically slightly raspy side and Rose smoother. Their time on stage was short but sweet.