in performance: lonesome river band

lonesome river band 

For all its country music leanings and progressive instrumentation, the Lonesome River Band took roughly a minute-and-a-half to establish its still-vital bluegrass credibility.

To preface the well worn string music staple Sally Goodin’ – the only instrumental the band performed over the course of two 45 minute sets last night at Clay City’s Meadowgreen Park Music Hall – banjoist/ bandleader Sammy Shelor and fiddler Mike Hartgrove engaged in a brief but robust duet full of rustic, traditionally flavored charm. It wasn’t flashy. Nothing the two players engaged in all evening was. The exchange was simply an exercise in taste, subtlety and conversational fluency – attributes many bluegrass ensembles toss aside in favor of warp speed licks and eccentric soloing.

From vocals that regularly reached into country territory – like guitarist Brandon Rickman’s decidedly George Jones-flavored lead on Jimmy Martin’s Mary Ann – to blues flavored tunes that embraced that most deliciously decadent bluegrass indulgence, the murder ballad (or “killin’ song,” as Shelor termed it when introducing Perfume, Powder and Lead), nothing the Lonesome River Band shelled out was overblown. In fact, there were instances when the band’s steadfast resolve seemed almost bulletproof.

When a guitar string busted during Whoop and Ride, Rickman didn’t blink. He simply kept singing verses with calm authority, maintained the song’s comfortable pace and confidently went about restringing his instrument. Nothing stopped. Nothing even slowed.

The rest of the band was equally sharp with mandolinist Andy Ball taking double honors for the humble vocal lead on the riotous two-timing lament Carolyn the Teenage Queen and the richly propulsive string drive of Am I a Fool.

Still, watching Shelor (a LRB band member since 1990) matching modest musical wits with Hartgrove (who returned to the band in January following a three year stint with Doyle Lawson) made this artful and contemporary bluegrass sound seem far more cordial than lonesome.

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