Back to Metroland's Home Page!
 Columns & Opinions
   The Simple Life
   Looking Up
   Myth America
 News & Features
   What a Week
   Loose Ends
   This Week's Review
   The Dining Guide
 Cinema & Video
   Weekly Reviews
   The Movie Schedule
   Listen Here
   Art Murmur
   Night & Day
   Event Listings
   View Classified Ads
   Place a Classified Ad
   Online Personals
   Place A Print Ad
 About Metroland
   Where We Are
   Who We Are
   What We Do
   Work For Us
   Place An Ad

Bluegrass Family Values
By Erik Hage

The Del McCoury Band, the Gibson Brothers
The Egg, Nov. 21

‘That high, lonesome sound”—it’s used to describe bluegrass music so often that it has practically devolved into cliché. Yet, when attending most bluegrass shows in this day and age, one will notice that the music is usually delivered in a communal, friendly and appreciative atmosphere. This was no exception when Del McCoury and crew, plus the Gibson Brothers, rolled into the Egg on Sunday night for a warm, spirited performance.

A good 700 appreciative bluegrass fans packed the theater to capacity. On their own, both the Del McCoury Band and the Gibson Brothers are top-notch performers (McCoury and band being the road- seasoned vets and the Gibson Brothers the young lions) and could pull a decent crowd. Together, they represented one of the hottest bluegrass bills to hit our area in a long time.

Headliner McCoury has connections that go back to bluegrass’ designated source, Bill Monroe (he played with Monroe in the early ’60s). But he and his band, which consists of his two sons (Ronnie and Robbie), have also played with restless Americana rebel Steve Earle (the result of their collaboration is 1999’s The Mountain).

Live, McCoury is a down-to-earth, gentle presence, with a high shock of white hair and politely youthful manner. He coaxed requests from the crowd, and came through on most of them, he and his band huddling and shifting around the two mics, their orchestrated movements determining the layers in the organic mix. It was the kind of aural lesson in acoustics that sound- engineering school just doesn’t teach. In typical concession to bluegrass formality, Del and band were decked out neatly in matching gray suits.

The group pulled from their newest album, It’s Just the Night, including the slinky, metaphysical title track and the spirited “Let an Old Race Horse Run.” Ronnie pitched his voice into a high wail for a spot-on take of Monroe’s “Body and Soul” as his dad huddled behind them changing a broken string. They also pitched into some heartwarming gospel on “I Can Hear the Angels Singing.” Befitting the form, there was plenty instrumental spitfire, but the dominant impression was left by the group’s gorgeous multipart harmonies.

Openers the Gibson Brothers (who grew up in New York state, near the Canadian border) showed that they were worthy of all of the buzz they’ve received in recent years, offering a sterling take on the Band’s “Ophelia” and a nimble, lightning-speed instrumental romp through Flatt & Scruggs’ “Shuckin’ the Corn.” The duo also firmly planted themselves in the great lineage of bluegrass “brother” groups with a moving turn on the Louvin Brothers’ “Satan’s Jeweled Crown,” as well as their own compositions. Most poignantly (and at the audience’s suggestion), the Gibsons came back out for the McCoury Band’s encore, pitting their newcomer harmonies against the acoustic muscle of one of the finest bluegrass outfits on the road today.

Still a Country Girl

Dolly Parton
Pepsi Arena, Nov. 17

The two biggest things about Dolly Parton were on triumphant display at the Pepsi last week. They’ve served her well for almost 40 years, and continued to do so, in impressive fashion.

Of course, I’m referring to her voice and her songs.

Yeah, that was a lousy boob joke, but a good way to raise a couple of points. One, Parton’s songwriting skills and vocal prowess are still formidable. Two, Parton herself told a number of boob jokes during her performance, all perfectly terrible, and, yet, kinda endearing in the sense that, yes, after almost 40 years, they’re still an issue. (And we’re still a profoundly strange culture when it comes to female breasts.)

Parton has had a lot of hits, and the set list drew on all stages of her career. It’s always revealing which songs a longtime performer isn’t interested in anymore. Parton tossed off the other-woman classic “Jolene” and the million-selling pop hit “Here You Come Again” in a medley, and joked that she wished Jolene had just gone ahead and stole her husband all those years ago. On the other hand, “I Will Always Love You” was given the deluxe treatment. Parton prefaced the song with the amusing story of how Elvis had wanted to record it, but, while thrilled, she ended up refusing to let him. Apparently, it was standard procedure that if the King sang your tune, he owned half of it. The bucketfuls of cash from the Whitney Houston version certainly redeemed Dolly’s cool business sense.

While the highlights included such Parton standards as the still-touching “Coat of Many Colors” and “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” both of which were prominently featured near the end of the show, her best moment came with “The Grass Is Blue,” a newer Parton song also covered by Norah Jones. Dolly just played the piano and sang—it was a disarming moment.

Which is not to say the evening didn’t end with showbiz flair. Dolly ran around the stage playing every instrument under the sun for her gender-corrected take on John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”

The opening act, the Grascals, played a hell of a bluegrass set punctuated with less-impressive straight country numbers. They also doubled as half of Parton’s impressive 10-piece band.

To end on a personal note—which seems entirely appropriate in a review of a country show—I’d like to thank the nice lady sitting next to me for letting me peruse the glossy, oversized souvenir book for which she had shelled out $30. I didn’t pester; she offered without my asking, explaining that she had been to many concerts where she hadn’t been able to buy one of these.

With considerably less appreciation, I’d like to include a shout-out to a young woman I’ll call the Berkshire Banshee, so named because she, at one point early on, invited Dolly to come to the Berkshires. Seated a few rows behind me, the Banshee couldn’t restrain herself from screaming “I love you, Dolly” over and over, and tunelessly, loudly warbling along with some of the songs. For future reference, Miss, nobody showed up to hear you squawk.

—Shawn Stone


Send A Letter to Our Editor
Back Home
Copyright © 2002 Lou Communications, Inc., 419 Madison Ave., Albany, NY 12210. All rights reserved.