Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
n a night when the world seems to be falling further apart thanks to coronavirus (this would be the night the NBA postponed the season), there stood The Lil Smokies to at least in some small measure save the day.
The quintet is part of a generation of musicians with bluegrass as the basis, but not totally the sum of the music either. So, with a lot of punch to their bluegrass instrumentation, The Lil Smokies soared.
The Montana-based band (well, at least two of the members live there) filled their set with lyrical playing on fiddle from Jake Wood, resophonic guitar from band founder Andy Dunnigan and Matt Cornette on banjo. All three had plenty of opportunities to be center stage or at the very least underpinning the music.
This was entirely a group effort with Matt "Rev" Reiger (guitar, vocals) and Scott Parker on bass (the most laid back of the band, he apparently has his own cheering section) contributing as well.
The Smokies played with a lot of cohesiveness coupled with seeming wild abandon. The effusive Wood was a mainstay throughout with lots of wonderful runs. He took lead vocals as did Reiger, but most fell to band founder Dunnigan. And since this was bluegrass, a chunk of songs lent themselves to three-part harmonies.
Along with their own excellent material including the anthemic sounding "Carry Me" from the band's brand new third album, "Tornillo," The Lil Smokies turned in a few worthy covers. They deserve credit for grassing up The Police's "Message in a Bottle" and turned it up on a Sturgill Simpson song with Dunnigan and Wood going head to head as they would other times during the 85-minute show.
Not everything was at breakneck speed or extended with the encore of "Tornillo," a quieter song with heartfelt vocals from Dunnigan.
With muscular, sonorous playing and good tunes, there was a lot to like about The Lil Smokies. Pardon the pun, but The Lil Smokies were on fire from start to finish, gifting the perfect antidote to tough times for all.