in performance: bodeans

bodeans: ryan bowman, kurt neumann, warren hood, michael ramos.

The task before the BoDeans – specifically, frontman Kurt Neumann – last night at Buster’s was a mighty one. The mission? To take 26 years worth of expert pop and Americana-driven rock ‘n’ roll crafted for the very distinct harmonic blend of Neumann and co-founder Sammy Llanas and credibly reinvent it now that the latter singer has flown the coup.

The answer came by way of an absorbing 100 minute performance that unveiled an industrious seven member Llanas-less BoDeans lineup, a smattering of new songs from its fine new Neumann-led American Made album and an assortment of cleverly re-arranged older works.

The new lineup didn’t offer a dramatic stylistic detour. Instead, it simply cemented a more relaxed and orchestrated sound the BoDeans had adopted on several recent independent recordings. At the forefront of the music – even more so, in some cases, than Neumann – was fiddler Warren Hood and co-guitarist Jake Owen. Their playing helped ignite healthy ensemble jams during the chestnut tune Fadeaway that sandwiched a tough knuckled shuffle between two sections rich in dub and reggae grooves.

But add in longtime BoDeans keyboardist Michael Ramos, who bolstered much of the program with accordion accents that shifted from Cajun-flavored spice to Dropkick Murphys-level Celtic spunk, and the show truly began to kick. Case in point: American, one of four strong tunes from American Made that possessed a fervent but refreshingly non-jingoistic narrative as well as a pumped-up roots drive that further empowered fiddle and accordion.

Neumann wore the crown of rock ‘n’ roll elder with unassuming distinction last night. Among his craftier moments included the transformation of Good Work – a true smoker of a tune from the band’s late ‘80s shows – into a leisurely mix of traditional honky tonk and Chicago blues.

After taking a serious hit in the personnel department a year ago, the music the reconstituted BoDeans offered last night seemed less the product of an aging band running without a co-pilot and more the work of a flight team of seasoned vets and industrious newcomers. All appeared to be equally enjoying the ride.

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