Brance and I had the opportunity to see The Dan Tyminski Band in concert on Friday (2/29) at The Jefferson Center here in Roanoke, VA. We had been looking forward to seeing them perform since the formation of the band was announced during the 2007 IBMA World Of Bluegrass convention, and The Jefferson’s Shaftman Hall was a near-perfect setting.
The band is composed of Barry Bales on bass, Justin Moses on fiddle/dobro, Adam Steffey on mandolin, and Ron Stewart on banjo with Tyminski on guitar and lead vocals. I had spoken with Dan earlier that day, and had several prior conversations with Ron and Adam about the new band. That, together with my keen awareness of each member’s musicianship, left me with some fairly high expectations going into the show.
They emerged from stage right with no introduction, and launched into a blistering, nearly-two hour set of traditional bluegrass music with the characteristic front-of-the-beat drive that distinguishes the finest practitioners of the art. It was a powerful ensemble sound, with vocals to match.
The material was chosen from Dan’s 2000 release, Carry Me Across The Mountains, the band’s upcoming Wheels CD, plus numbers Dan (and Adam) had recorded with Alison Krauss & Union Station. Throw in some bluegrass classics and you had a full concert of expertly performed, passionately delivered music.
Tyminski’s voice has been a familiar one in bluegrass since his emergence with Lonesome River Band in the late 1980s, and he gave an impressive performance Friday night. He offered versions of One Tear and Free Born Man on top of cuts from his CD like Carry Me Across The Mountain, Stuck In The Middle Of Nowhere, Think About You Every Day and Tiny Broken Heart.
Of course they also performed Man Of Constant Sorrow, the most recent bluegrass song to hit pop and country radio with a vengeance, for which Dan provided the voice over in the O Brother, Where Art Thou movie. If you have caught Dan doing this one with AKUS, you’ll have heard his amusing tale about breaking the news about scoring the movie gig to his wife, but it is a funny one even on subsequent rehearings.
The vocal trio has Barry Bales singing baritone and Justin Moses on tenor, blending perfectly with Dan throughout. Dan’s voice is plaintive and emotional, and Moses in particular matched him nuance for nuance, never once overshadowing the lead. Bales’ baritone was also dead on.
The picking was equally sharp, and was a particular highlight for me. Ron Stewart is perhaps the finest exemplar of contemporary bluegrass banjo playing on the scene today and it was a real treat to watch him in his element. Other than a few ballads on which he played fiddle, Ron was left free to pound the five string into submission on every tune. Each note was smooth as silk, and right on time.
Adam Steffey provided his share of fireworks on the mandolin as well. I had seen him perform dozens of times over the years with both AKUS and Mountain Heart, but here his unique skills seem most clearly suited to the task at hand. He and Ron stood side by side on stage, and the two seemed to be gearing up the intensity level all night. As one would lay down a spectacular solo, the other would ratchet it up a notch in response.
Adam also sang No Place To Hide in his baritone drawl, and his MC work throughout the evening was as entertaining as the music. He is a natural comedian and he had the band and the audience in stitches between songs.
I’m not sure if I can add any praise to that Barry Bales has already earned for his stellar bass work. Impeccable timing, huge tone and an ability to be creative on his instrument within the accepted parameters of the style have long set him apart. He seemed to be enjoying himself immensely all night – as they all did – and his quick ear allowed him to create clever counter rhythms whenever the soloists’ work suggested them.
Justin Moses seemed like an odd man out, but only for his demeanor. If he smiled, I missed it, and his posture and attitude strike you as one of a man uncomfortable with the limelight. But nothing about his playing gives you that impression. His fiddle work was stellar, as was his dobro and banjo playing on a few songs.
All in all, The Dan Tyminski Band struck me as one of the finest of its kind ever assembled. Their rhythmic and instrumental precision, lead and harmony vocal smoothness, and choice of material puts one in mind of the heralded Bluegrass Album Band [heresy alert!]. That touchstone band, which featured Tony Rice, JD Crowe, Doyle Lawson, Bobby Hicks and Todd Phillips defined the apex of the style, and their recordings schooled the next generation of pickers in the finer points of modern bluegrass.
I doubt that I can put it any better than my friend, Keith Roberts, did: If The Bluegrass Album band is The King James Bible, these guys must be the New American Standard.
Just so. Let’s hope they stay together and record for many years to come.