Sign up for newsletter
 
From the Country Standard Time Archives

McCoury et al prove deserving of acclaim

Museum of Our National Heritage, Lexington, Mass., March 14, 1998

By Jeffrey B. Remz

LEXINGTON, MASS. -Take the International Bluegrass Music Association Entertainer of the Year. Add his band's bass, mandolin and fiddle players for winning awards in their respective categories. And close it out with a fine banjo player.

The result? The Del McCoury Band, perhaps the best band in bluegrass today and a point brought home at Saturday's sold-out show at the Museum of Our National Heritage.

The band scores on just about every front: musicianship, singing and song choice.

For starters, there's McCoury. The tenor is one fine singer, who earned his stripes as lead vocalist and guitarist for Monroe's Bluegrass Boys in 1963-64. He holds notes and sings with emotion on songs more often than not delving into broken relationships ("The Cold Hard Facts," the closing song during the very generous 105-minute set and title track of the group's most recent CD, and "Blue Darlin'").

And McCoury proved adept whether on the high lonesome songs, a more blues-oriented approach (a cover of Robert Cray's signature song, "Smoking Gun") or a country bent. McCoury's delivery often seemed to come off with an added oomph you don't hear on the silver platter.

Occasional soaring three-part vocal harmonies often stood out ("Smoke in the House").

As for the musicianship, this is one fine band. Aiding and abetting McCoury are sons Ronnie on mandolin and occasional lead vocals and Rob on banjo, topnotch fiddler Jason Carter and active bassist Mike Bub.

They carried out their craft usually huddled close together around one microphone at stage center. Perhaps the highlight of the night was the instrumental "Baltimore Johnny."

No one stood out in particular. McCoury let each band member have his chance quite frequently. Carter may blaze away on fiddle before one of the McCoury boys would let loose on their instrument. Bub took less of a central role, but his expert playing often set the pace.

This was no paint-by-the-numbers show either. A warm and friendly performer, McCoury took numerous requests from the fans. One of the highlights among requested songs was "Blackjack County," which had Del backed at first only by Robbie on mandolin before the other three band members came up to fill out the song.

McCoury fortunately tours in New England a fair amount, hitting the summer bluegrass festival circuit. Based on Saturday's show, catch McCoury et al whenever you can.

The awards are more than deserved.

Straight Ahead played a deservedly well-received opening set. An outgrowth of Wyatt Rice and Santa Cruz, which broke up, the band is releasing its debut in June or July on Rounder.

The group, consisting of Junior Sisk on acoustic and most lead vocals, Elmer Burchett on banjo, Timmy Massey on bass and Alan Perdue on mandolin plus Carter sitting in, showed fine musicianship throughout.

Sisk was a bit hoarse in the vocal department, but the playing and song delivery more than made up for it.

The band very soon will have to change its names because a Detroit female jazz band already owns the rights. On this night, the bluegrass Straight Ahead played it just right.