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Lone Star Staters fortunately go beyond state lines

The Sinclair, Cambridge, Mass., March 2, 2014

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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The idea of a Boston/Austin connection about friendships has developed over the years, but somehow it didn't seem to apply to country music.

But with the Randy Rogers Band, Wade Bowen, Stoney Larue and the Josh Abbott Band heading up from Texas (okay, not necessarily Austin) on the so-called Four on the Floor trek for two weeks, this was a rare chance for the sold-out crowd (presumably many Texans) to hear artists who might never have to leave the Lone Star State to make a living.

While one typically thinks of Texas as being filled with traditional country acts, one would be hard pressed to say that about any of the four. Fiddle was a key instrument throughout, especially for the headliners, but the banjo, which appeared often from Austin Davis of Abbott's band, was tuned to sound far more like a guitar than what one typically thinks of when hearing the instrument.

No pedal steel either, another indication that this was not dyed-in-the-wool honky tonk music.

By and large, this was a night of Texas rock and Red Dirt styled music. This wasn't rock in the sense of what is on the radio now with the likes of Jason Aldean. More like on the rootsier side, a bit bluesy at times.

Jason Abbott Band kicked off the night with a well-put together 40-minute set. Like most everyone, Abbott probably was putting in less time on stage than usual and had to adjust accordingly. In Abbott's case, that meant putting an emphasis on the songs and not stage patter.

Fortunately, the songs measured up, particularly "I'll Sing About Mine." In a scene repeated often throughout the evening emphasizing the camaraderie that existed among the musicians, Bowen came out to help sing. Musicians from bands would sometimes join their touring mates for a song or two.

Larue was the only artist whose set flagged. It had nothing to do with the quality of Larue's singing or his band's playing or even the songs (for the most part). Larue and his mates were fine on all counts.

But for reasons unknown, Larue started with a cover, a good reading of Merle Haggard's "Workingman's Blues," but why start with a cover when you have enough of your own material?

A few songs later, Larue turned in another credible cover with his bluesy reading of Woody Guthrie's "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad." Far less successful was "Sweet Melissa," the Allmans' song. Larue did not put his own stamp on the song.

Larue had good vocal command, but his problem was that he didn't put together a coherent set list. He played three softer songs in a row when the road was ready for songs with a lot more energy. One got the sense that Larue is far more used to and more comfortable with a longer set.

Bowen, with a slight rasp in his voice, upped the ante. Like every performer, there was a confidence in his singing and his band's playing.

In a rebuff to the commercially successful country artists out there, Bowen particularly scored with "Songs About Trucks" as in "I don't want to hear no songs about trucks."

And without pandering to the hometown crowd, Bowen turned in a good reading of Dave Loggins' "Please Come to Boston," explaining that when he was about seven, his father dragged him to Billy Bob's in Fort Worth, Texas to see David Allen Coe, who enjoyed success with the song.

Bowen closed out a his smart set with "Saturday Night."

Rogers did not have it easy despite being the headliner. He had to contend with a thinning crowd, not a surprise given the very short breaks between acts and about four hours of music.

That had nothing to do with what was going on musically. Rogers, who sort of recalls Steve Earle vocally a bit, was all about good songs. Yes, they tended to have a similar streak in being catchy, anthemic, singalongs (he wasn't the only one who could be accused of that on this night).

"Speak of the Devil," "This Time Around," Kiss Me in the Dark" and "Last, Last Chance" all fit that bill.

Rogers also had a very very lively backing band behind him, particularly fiddle player Brady Black, who was in overdrive most of the time. To his credit, Rogers was not afraid to cede center stage to his band.

The night thankfully closed with all bands crowding the stage for a fitting cover of ZZ Top's "Gimme All Your Lovin'." That about summed the evening - good times and good fun with a festive crowd, who seemed to know quite a lot of lyrics to all four artists. This may not have been a night of heavy-duty country, but it was quite good.

Good thing the Boston/Austin went beyond city limits on this night.