in performance: steep canyon rangers/shannon whitworth

steep canyon rangers: mike guggino, nicky sanders, graham sharp, charles r.humphrey III and woody platt.

steep canyon rangers: mike guggino, nicky sanders, graham sharp, charles r.humphrey III and woody platt.

You know a performance evening is going your way when even a mishap works in your favor.

That was the case during last night’s final taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour of 2013 at the Lyric Theatre. The Grammy winning bluegrass troupe Steep Canyon Rangers opened with the title tune from its new Tell the Ones I Love album. A metaphorical train song, it borrowed from bluegrass tradition in its resilient three part harmonies but broadened the musical landscape with instrumentation that built off of cyclical guitar and mandolin patterns, bowed bass and a fiddle rhythm that was strummed before it broke into a dervish-like solo. The resulting music was exuberant but ultra focused.

In short, everything about the song worked splendidly until the taping was stopped. A technical glitch undetectable to the audience had disrupted the recording of Charles R. Humphrey III’s bass work. But when it was announced to the crowd that the song would have to be played again, the crowd cheered. Even the Rangers’ newest member, percussionist Mike Ashworth, gave a visible thumbs-up to the call. Sure enough, the second time through, the song sounded even stronger, especially the subtle harmonies of Sharp, guitarist Woody Platt and mandolinist Mike Guggino.

The other three songs the Rangers played from the album – Stand and Deliver, Take the Wheel (both Sharp tunes) and Camellia (written by Humphrey) established a flight pattern of country-esque narratives buoyed by harmonies, keen ensemble playing and solos by Guggino and fiddler Nicky Sanders. The classically bred but Berklee trained Sanders proved to be the show stealer of the night with solos that meshed speed, agility and a playing style that borrowed as heavily from ‘40s era European swing as it did bluegrass.

The taping also featured Shannon Whitworth, a bluegrasser-turned-folkie whose tunes were light, romantically inclined works that, while performed with guitarist Barrett Smith as her only accompanist, suggested many of the pop influences that are more fully realized on her recordings. Guggino sat in on the title tune to Whitworth’s recent High Tide album while Smith took over vocal duties on a stoic cover of Paul Simon’s Duncan.  Both were nice additions to what was a fairly colorless set.

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