The Joe Val Bluegrass Festival in the Boston suburbs provided the perfect cure for cabin fever this year, as the music was hot and the snow that seems drawn to the festival weekend like metal to a magnet stayed away until Monday.
But the few hundred folks who straggled out of bed Sunday morning after a late night of jamming received a booster dose of musical medicine in the form of the debut performance of the Shawn Lane-Richard Bennett duo. They also had the first shot at buying their new five-song EP, Land and Harbor.
With their polished vocals and instrumental magic, they did more than entertain the crowd. They offered a master class of sorts in how to make just two instruments fill the sonic space, how to blend voices and how to write compelling songs.
“Welcome to our rehearsal,” Bennett said early in the set. Let me tell you, if that was the rehearsal, I can’t wait to hear the polished act.
The set featured both chestnuts like Shady Grove, I’ve Endured and Wayfaring Stranger, and a handful of originals from the new record, which is primarily Lane and Bennett on guitars, with Gaven Largent adding a bit of resophonic guitar, and Lane putting fiddle on one track.
“We figured, ‘hey, we wrote ‘em on two guitars, let’s play ‘em on a couple of guitars,” Lane said. During the live show, Lane added some spice on fiddle and mandolin.
Both pickers have a full plate these days. Lane, a three-time Grammy nominee and co-founder of Blue Highway, also is getting ready to release Shawn Lane: Family & Friends later this year. Bennett, who gained acclaim as the lead vocalist for J.D. Crowe & The New South, now tours and records with Flashback.
Lane and Bennett are already planning to drop another record later in the year. The official release day for Land and Harbor is March 8. I’ll review the CD closer to the release date, but the songs they played at Sunday morning’s show provided plenty of evidence that they write together as well as they play.
My favorite song in the set was Harmon’s Den, which the two wrote together. It’s the latest in a long line of you-done-my-family wrong bluegrass murder ballads. I can’t wait to hear the recorded version.
But I was also entranced by the fresh, creative arrangements of Shady Grove, which is on the new recording, and I’ve Endured, which is not.
“We’re really excited to just go out and have fun with this,” Lane said. They seemed to have a ton of fun, and so did the crowd. The set had a folkier feel than the full-band brand of bluegrass offered by their regular bands.
It was the perfect sound for a lazy Sunday morning.