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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Earle climbs the bluegrass mountain

Somerville Theatre, Somerville, Mass. Aug. 5, 1999

By Jeffrey B. Remz

SOMERVILLE, MA - Steve Earle is never one to stand still. Earlier this year, he went totally bluegrass, recording the very fine disc, "The Mountain," with the Del McCoury Band backing him up.

His fans got a chance to see a different side of Earle in concert than they ever had before as he delivered pretty much doing a totally bluegrass show with few nods to his meaty catalogue of the past 15 years.

For starters, going bluegrass means that Earle was also all acoustic. No Dukes with teeth behind him this time around. He had the Bluegrass Dukes to handle that chore.

And handle it they did with Tim O'Brien on mandolin, Darrell Scott on guitar and banjo, Dennis Crouch on bass and Casey Driessen, soon to enter his senior year at Berklee College of Music, on fiddle.

All were certainly up to snuff with O'Brien, who also helped out on backing vocals and harmonies and the meaty and driving Driessen - only in his third gig for Earle - the standouts.

The band was hastily put together by O'Brien because the McCoury Band backed out of touring with Earle after being less than enthralled with his earthy stage language.

O'Brien and Scott also had a chance to play about half a dozen cuts from their recent albums as well.

Earle clearly seemed to enjoy the musical change, and an appreciative crowd was clearly behind him. A premium is put on vocal delivery as there is no music to drown out the vocals. Generally, Earle did well there, though a few times, he was hard pressed to reach the low notes.

His recent albums may lean towards a softer, more acoustically oriented side, but that doesn't mean the songs lack quality, of course. "I Still Carry You Around" and "Harlan Man" were among the well-developed softer songs, while "Carrie Brown" was Earle's typical murder song with a more forceful sound, offering a change of pace..

Earle has taken career risks in more ways than one. This slimmed down version of Earle - both literally and musically - was a welcome change. He will go back to rock with his next album, but certainly will do bluegrass once again.

Next time around the mountain won't be so high because Earle can do it on the platter and in concert.