Sam Bush Band, Railroad: there's talen in the bands
Somerville Theatre, March 30+2, 2003
SOMERVILLE, MA - Mention the name Sam Bush, and chances are those in the know will very quickly cite him as one of the greatest - if not the best - mandolin players out there today.
And the shaggy-haired mandolinist also will be known as founder of New Grass Revival, a sideman, having performed on countless releases along with serving the sideman's role in concert for the likes of Lyle Lovett and leading Emmylou Harris' Nash Ramblers.
But every once in awhile Bush steps out front as the leader of the four-piece Sam Bush Band. Like he did before an enthusiastic crowd
While Bush is unlikely to make the list of best vocalists, he certainly does a more than adequate singing job.
But the real pleasure of listening to the Sam Bush Band for two-plus hours was the extremely high quality of the musicianship. Bush clearly demonstrated why the accolades he has received for his mandolin work are well deserved. The Kentucky native more than breathes life into the instrument. Ditto for when he played Dobro.
Bush often makes the mandolin sound like a lead guitar. He can pick the heck out of the instrument, but he is not only about flash and fast licks.
Backing Bush was (mainly) acoustic guitarist Brad Davis, who did a decade with Marty Stuart and also plays with Earl Scruggs; bassist Byron House and drummer Chris Brown. Each did his job in shaping the songs.
The music tended to be in the bluegrass/jam band vein, which meant the players were given a lot of space to do their thing. But the playing did not extend interminably and always seemed to be heading somewhere. No noodling just for playing sake.
Bush also missed it up with some blues-based songs, reggae (Bob Marley's "Is This Love?"), jazzy-oriented bluegrass ("Mahavishnu Mountain Boys") and rocking á la the Allman Brothers Band.
About the only complaint that could be given is that Bush made mention of the baseball season starting. But why no version of his "Take Me Out to the Ballgame?" On that note, he struck out. On most everything else, though the Sam Bush Band had a lot of extra-base hits and a few homers.
Railroad Earth, a New Jersey-based band, turned in a really strong opening hour-long set of bluegrass-based jam music. These guys can play, especially fiddler Tim Carbone and mandolinist John Skehane. Carbone seemed to constantly set the groove or add the right quick burst of energy.
Lead singer Todd Sheaffer, like Bush, turns in a credible job, but is not overwhelming. And the vocals were mixed a bit low.
But Railroad Earth is on the right track.