It figures that the first unaccompanied performance by Jerry Douglas in his one-time hometown would go up against the first University of Kentucky home game held on a Sunday night in anyone’s memory. Against those odds, it’s no wonder the dobro great played to the few, the proud, the fanatical last night at the Lyric Theatre.
Meager turnout aside, the show was extraordinary in ways that went beyond Douglas’ pioneering display of the dobro. Given the show’s ultra-loose structure and Douglas’ quite adept skills as a raconteur which positively bloomed in the Lyric’s intimate setting, the evening seemed less like a formal concert and more like session spotlighting a virtuoso at play.
Initially, the show was like a symposium. After establishing his knack for shifting from conversational grace to grassy gutso on the concert-opening A New Day, Douglas offered remembrances of the two dobro giants that came before him – Josh Graves and Mike Auldridge. He then offered generous performance samples of the former’s rustic, rural traditionalism and the latter’s comparatively cosmopolitan phrasing. Douglas also dedicated the entire performance to the late Bobby Slone, his ‘70s bandmate in J.D. Crowe and the South.
But the one performer that continually sprang to mind during the 80 minute show had nothing to do with the dobro or the instrument’s bluegrass heritage. It was guitarist Leo Kottke, whose early slide playing was remarkably similar to the kind of winding melodies Douglas carved out on the dobro. That was especially true of a medley that matched the near boogie strut of Lil’ Roro with a richly textured cover of the Allman Brothers Band classic Little Martha (a tune Kottke has also interpreted in the late ‘80s).
Stylistically, though, Douglas remained the greater journeyman. He gave a tasty Little Feat-friendly treatment to Leadbelly’s On a Monday (the only vocal tune of the night), utilized a jig-like demeanor for the new The Perils of Private Mulvaney and let the dobro shift gears from a stately reading of Paul Simon’s An American Tune to a wildly festive variation on the Chick Corea staple Spain.
The evening wound up all-too-quickly with Sir Aly B, a gentle, reverential salute to the great Shetland fiddler Aly Bain (Douglas’ co-host on the BBC music series Transatlantic Session). On a rainy autumn Sunday where most Lexington eyes and ears were tuned to basketball, this lovely finale capped off a performance of intimate, unadorned and scholarly charm.