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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Earle, McCoury team up to make sweet bluegrass music

Station Inn, Nashville, March 1, 1999

By Ivey Lindsay

NASHVILLE - Looking around the Station Inn before Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band took the stage, it was easy to forget that you were in one of the most hallowed bluegrass establishments anywhere.

This is because the crowd, made up of artists, industry and media were engaged in the typical Nashville rigamarole; glad-handing, working the room and worrying more about their own projects than the music they had come for. Typical non-fan stuff.

Until Earle and McCoury took the stage that is...

Complete with the stark-honest bluegrass look of suit and tie, trimmed hair/beard and humble presence, appearances indicated that Earle was at least adopting the part.

As soon as the first notes of "Texas Eagle" began to rattle through the solitary microphone, everyone knew that looks were the least of it - these boys had come to play some bluegrass. By the time the opener was done, the crowd re-focused on music, yelling their lungs out and remembering exactly where they were. For the rest of the three-hour set, Earle and the McCoury band managed to pull off the impossible: they turned the industry "tastemaker" crowd into listeners.

Round one consisted of music mostly off of Earle's new record, "The Mountain." Songs like "Yours Forever Blue, "Harlan Man" and in particular the album's title track thoroughly drove home the ability of Earle to compose in the genre.

Spiked in the mix was a version of "My Old Friend The Blues" whose choppy bluegrass arrangement transformed it into a compliment to the songs written in the spirit of Bill Monroe.

What followed was a purist set from the Del McCoury Band featuring songs from their latest, The Family. This is the best bluegrass band around today, and songs like "A Far Cry," "Don't You Think It's Time To Go" and the lightning instrumental "Red Eyes On A Mad Dog" showcased exactly why they've earned this title.

In particular, the moving "Get Down On Your Knees and Pray" silenced absolutely everyone, and left you thinking you better get back to church, quick.

At this point, you could have gone home completely flushed with the power of bluegrass; both highly traditional and slightly evolved. But it wasn't over yet, as Earle came out to do a solo set on guitar and harmonica.

Switching the tracks, Earle's conviction transfixed the crowd with songs like "Now She's Gone," "CCKMP," and "Ellis Unit One." He also belted out a musical history lesson about ironic protagonists Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin' Hopkins, which seemed to fit with his own "South Nashville Blues."

The highlight came during the reunion of all to close out the show. Iris DeMent joined Earle and awestruck the crowd on the duet "I'm Still In Love With You." McCoury's knee-high grandson Jacob appeared on fiddle as the musicians then blasted through a version of "Copperhead Road" and struck gold with "Carrie Brown."

With the McCoury voices tightly cradling Earle's, the latter epitomized what Earle is going for on the new record, and what McCoury has been doing forever.