Anyone giving a close listen to Claire Lynch’s latest album, Whatcha Gonna Do, is sure to notice the fine guitar picking and masterful harmonies from Jim Hurst, and might venture a guess that his departure from the Claire Lynch Band would leave hard-to-fill gaps in live performances. No offense to Hurst and his outsized talents, but replacement Matt Wingate has provided a seamless transition. From his backing vocals on the first chorus of Great Day in the Morning, which opened the band’s showcase set at the World of Bluegrass conference Tuesday night in Nashville, to trading hard-driving mandolin licks with fiddle responses from Jason Thomas on the final song, Hummingbird, Wingate was stellar.
Indeed, with Wingate, Thomas and bassist Mark Schatz on stage, Lynch just might have the best backing lineup of her career. That’s no small accomplishment, given Hurst’s abilities and the fact that Schatz’s predecessor on the low-end was seven-time IBMA bass player of the year Missy Raines. In addition to being a top-flight bass player, Schatz can pick the banjo, as he did on one tune Tuesday night, and dance a credible tap routine, as he did accompanied by Thomas on the fiddle on another. There was no time in the abbreviated set for two other Schatz performances that are standard parts of Claire Lynch Band shows – a bring-down-the-house hambone routine and a performance of one of the many songs he has written.
None of this is meant to shortchange the band leader, who is up for three IBMA awards Thursday, including female vocalist of the year. Indeed, by surrounding herself with fine players, she is positioning herself for continued success, whether she signs another deal when her contract with Rounder Records expires or whether she follows many others down the path of forming her own label.