Down From the Mountain" tour is no downer at all
Wang Theatre, Boston, Feb. 2, 2002
BOSTON - Without a doubt, the hugest surprise in the music business in 2001 was the overwhelming, out of left field success of the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack.
The music, featuring a combo of bluegrass, mountain and old time music, came from an offbeat Coen Brothers film that did well at the box office.
But not as well as the 4-plus million sales racked up by the soundtrack despite not getting airplay on country radio stations.
And continuing that success, performers on the soundtrack and like-minded singers, like Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris and Patty Loveless, now are on the month-long "Down From the Mountain" tour.
The nearly three-hour evening, which worked on most counts, was not your typical concert affair. Instead, it was presented in a style reminscent of the Grand Ole Opry.
That means after a few songs, the performers quickly walk off stage to be replaced rapid fire by the next group.
The problem with that method, of course, was that it was hard for any acts to get going for very long and build a lasting momentum. But they all returned in one form or another later in the evening.
And old folk artist Bob Neuwrith emceed the evening with some comments catering to the sold-out Boston crowd. For the most part, Neuwiirth was on target, but at times one wished for more music and less talk.
The Nashville Bluegrass Band, which opened the show, was a strong force throughout by not only doing well on their own material, but also backing up many of the evening's performers. Ditto for dobro master Jerry Douglas and bluesman Chris Thomas King, who appeared in the movie as blues singer Tommy Johnson.
Norman Blake, accompanied by wife Nancy Blake on mandolin, was a superb picker and turned in a winning performance of "You Are My Sunshine."
Others turning in short, but fine outings were The Whites with Buck doing a humorous jig at one point, and the Peasall Sisters, the youngsters who appeared in the movie. "O Brother" actor Tim Blake Nelson also did a good take on "In the Jailhouse Now." In the movie, the song is sung by the Soggy Bottom Boys of which Nelson was a member.
While this was not a competitive evening of one singer trying to outdo another, Krauss, Loveless and Harris each turned in sterling performances. Harris, who performed the Gram Parsons chestnut "Hickory Wind," possesses a haunting, but very pretty singing style. Krauss is simply angelic, and Loveless got a lot of power in her Kentucky vocal chords.
Loveless, who released a great album of mountain music last summer, "Mountain Soul," was a tour de force on "Goin' Back to Harlan" and "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive," both speaking to her coal mining, small town roots.
Loveless also helped bluegrass icon Ralph Stanley, who closed out the evening.
Stanley, seemingly gaining more acclaim as he gets older, turned in an eerie sounding, a cappella performance of "O Death."
Stanley was joned by the entire ensemble for one of the greatest Stanley Brothers songs, "Angel Band," which sounded quite nice, before everyone returned for a second encore of "Amazing Grace."
While the style of the concert may not have been for everyone, for those into the "O Brother" idiom, the evening most definitely was.