A few more Tuesday night reflections

I wanted to add a few impressions to what Brance posted earlier…

New look for Mountain HeartMountain Heart: I thought that their showcase was brilliant, and was very interested to see how they would approach this “going over to the other side” vibe. When the band launched in 1999 – in another en masse exodus from Doyle Lawson – they were a decidedly bluegrass group, very much in the Quicksilver mode.

Only banjo player and vocalist Barry Abernathy and fiddler Jim VanCleve remain from the original lineup, and with new members coming and going, you expect any band to see an evolution in their sound.

Over these ten years, they have been drifting towards a more modern sound, both in their recordings and in their stage presentation. With the addition last year of Josh Shilling, a very talented vocalist and songwriter whose background is in blues and funk-based music, the guys have been drifting ever farther from a bluegrass-only format. Even the fiddle tunes they perform often rely on harmony that owes as much to rock as bluegrass, and the production of their recent studio albums have strayed from kickoff-verse-chorus-break arrangements.

The whole point of last night’s showcase was to introduce a new stage show that made no attempt to be “a bluegrass band” or a “blues band” or a “rock band.”  The video Brance is editing now will have a lot of comments from Shilling about their newly-refocused approach, where they just let the various stylistic influences in the band be what they are. Bluegrass traditionalists may not care for it, but it struck me that anyone with an open mind towards quality music would have to work hard to dislike it.

Mountain Heart is hosting a mega-jam tonight (9/30) to celebrate their 10th Anniversary, with a stellar list of guests scheduled to appear with them on stage. We will certainly be trying to catch that, tonight at 11:15 p.m. (CDT).

Adam SteffeyAdam Steffey: I agree with Brance that this was a highlight of the day’s music. All the Mountain Heart guys were there – they headed down to see Adam (a former band mate) after their event had concluded.

His band – essentially The Dan Tyminski Band with Clay Hess on guitar and Randy Kohrs on resonator guitar – was sonic perfection. Ron Stewart shows every time he straps on one why he is among the most admired banjoists in bluegrass. Barry Bales plays bass with the tone and sense of time that the rest seek to emulate, and Justin Moses plays fiddle and sings tenor as well as one could hope.

Steffey worked his magic on both mandolin and deep-baritone vocals. Adam has never thought of himself as a singer, though the numbers he would do in the AKUS show while he was a member were always extremely well received, and he delivered two of them last night (Cloudy Days and No Place To Hide). The focus, though was on material from his new Sugar Hill CD, One More For the Road.

Interestingly, Brance and I had heard the title track performed by Josh Shilling and Mountain Heart just an hour or so before Adam’s set. Josh wrote the song, and Steffey opened the show with his version. The contrast was striking, though both were compelling. Adam’s growly, nearly-bass voice immediately grabs your attention, and his rhythm section was sheer joy.

This is a fabulous CD, and getting to see the material performed live was a treat. A particular shout-out to Clay Hess who sang Let Me Fall, in place of the absent Dan Tyminski who did the vocal on the album. It was a fine job, and it brought down the house.

Tina AdairTina Adair: Though nearly asleep at this point, I drug myself downstairs to hear a short set from The Tina Adair Band.

Tina is a terrific singer, with a voice as big as all outdoors. Her group features Justin Carbone on guitar, Sim Daley on banjo and her husband Tim Dishman on bass. Their set was music from an upcoming CD, with one (How Great Thou Art) from one of her previous releases.

The setting was intimate, sponsored by the South Florida Bluegrass Association, and I could hear them as well acoustically as I could through the sound system. Sim Daley deserves special mention, not only for his understated, tasteful banjo playing, but for the tone of Tina’s purple mandolin, which Sim built. It has always puzzled me why a banjo player as skillful as Sim chooses to build mandolins rather than banjos, but he does, and his Daley Mandolins are highly prozed by professional pickers.

Sim’s banjo, which would appear to be an old flathead, had a remarkable tone, and he did a brilliant job of coaxing it gently from the strings.

Guitarist Carbone shone on both rhythm and lead, not to mention as a songwriter. Several of the songs from the upcoming CD they featured are his.

All of the songs were strong, and quite well performed. Tina’s voice is the showpiece of the band, but harmony vocals are powerful as well. It’s a great group all around.

Watch out for this bunch…

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.