If Becky Buller is modern bluegrass, then I approve. I attended her show at the Emelin Theater in Mamaroneck, NY last Friday (4/8) with a friend, out of curiosity. I like Becky’s new album ‘Tween Earth and Sky. I wondered if she could do those songs as well in person.
I’ll say she did! The sparser sound of her 5 piece band greatly improved most of the music, compared to the carefully produced sound of the great CD.
Most of the songs were from Becky’s new CD, with a handful of crowd-pleasing covers from bluegrass and beyond. The show was very entertaining – the band seemed to enjoy themselves and each other’s company and musicianship. No grim bluegrass faces and posture here. Becky conveys a nice sense of “flow” in her show – it was no static execution of a set list.
My top take-away: any young woman — check that — any young person, could learn a lot from this band about performing new bluegrass music in an entertaining way. They play acoustic bluegrass traditionally, but with some rockin’ attitude and looseness.
Looking sharp in a classic “little black dress,” Becky played fiddle, clawhammer banjo and guitar. And she sang her guts out. She has controlled power and pitch. She can sing softly, and with passion, without overdoing or wailing. Her singing and body language communicated emotion without suggesting Broadway. Her fiddling is masterfully STRONG. It was also delicate in her own Bb composition American Corner, a tune I could imagine Howdy Forrester or Kenny Baker performing. She’s a good band leader, using body language and motion to clue in the audience to which sideman was taking a break.
She was “on” all the time – fiddling, playing banjo or guitar, singing, and leading the team.
The excellent sidemen, neatly dressed in dark jackets and tucked-in shirts, comprised “Professor” Dan Boner of ETSU on mandolin, viola and harmony; Ned Luberecki on banjo, guitar, harmony and humor; Daniel Hardin on bass fiddle and harmony; and Brandon Bostic on guitar, reso guitar and harmony.
Nedski pulled a lot of weight with totally original lead breaks and constant back-up banjo playing. With his Sirius/XM radio skills, he NEVER left dead air unfilled without some sort of tomfoolery.
This band seemed comfortable and confident, as if they’d played together for years. They’re really good pickers, singers and entertainers.
Fine duets, trios and an encore quartet focused on a big central mic, nicely balanced vocally, and exhibited the beloved bluegrass choreography. As mentioned, Becky’s body language is very relaxed and in sync with the music. The sidemen were in eye contact and frequently grinning.
I especially enjoyed my preferred songs from the CD. Becky and Professor Dan played twin fiddles and sang great on my favorite For a Lifetime. I thought Didn’t Die particularly benefited from being performed with just 5 pieces. You could hear and feel some spooky “air” around Becky’s compelling singing and banjo licks. They did a very fine job on the 2015 IBMA Recorded Event song Southern Flavor, with Prof. Dan laying down his viola and picking up the mandolin to take a break in the middle. This closing number segued neatly into Bill Monroe’s old theme, Watermelon on the Vine.
The quartet encored very strongly, singing another of my favorites, Becky’s testimonial, I Serve A God. Even though she’d sung for two hours, and her voice naturally had a bit of a tired edge by then, she really cranked it up and BELTED out those bold high notes. It takes real nerve and faith to sing high notes with that kind of power.
I was delighted with Becky Buller’s show – we were really jazzed up as we left and shook hands with the band in the lobby. She’s as good in person as on record. She has excellent supportive, engaged sidemen. They are fun to watch and fun to listen to.
Becky comes across as a talented and lovely young lady who has worked hard for a long time, and she has all the elements for success in the bluegrass world. She is following Tony Rice’s advice from his IBMA Hall of Fame speech – don’t forget where bluegrass came from and what makes it bluegrass. This is neither faux bluegrass nor the dreaded “Americana/swing/Celtic/bluegrass/country/singer-songwriter” band. Becky Buller is the real thing. And then some.
You can check Becky’s schedule online. Later this month she’ll be in McMinnville, TN, Dahlonega, GA, Nauvoo, AL and Foxboro, NC. Go!