Monday, November 21, 2011

Laurie Lewis & Della Mae at BBU Concert - Review

A near sell-out crowd cheered and brought both bands back to the stage for encores at Saturday night's Boston Bluegrass Union sponsored concert at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, MA, once a comfortable night-time horseback ride from Boston.  The auditorium at the museum seats about 300 people, has unparallelled sight-lines, and features warm, crisp sound.  It's an almost perfect venue for BBU to hold its winter concert season, which usually is comprised of four concerts.

Stan Zdonik
BBU & IBMA President
Reuben Shetler
BBU Vice-President

Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands

Laurie Lewis has been a touring bluegrass musicians and pioneer for nearly forty years, first with her all female band "The Good Ol' Persons" and since the late 1980's with musical partner Tom Rozum in "Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands."  Personally, she's been twice named IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year, and  been a Grammy award winner, too.  Her music contains a delightful mix of traditional and more contemporary sounds and styles. On this tour there's good mix of Bill Monroe's music, reflecting the content of her latest CD, a tribute to Monroe's 100th birthday called "Skippin' & Flyin'."  Her warm and inviting voice lures an audience in, making them feel welcome and engaged. Near the end of her show, when she invites the audience to sing along with "Who Will Watch the Home Place?" her impact is stunning as she steps in front of the microphone, letting the audience's mellow harmonies dominate and emphasizing, without saying a word, the impact she has had on her audiences through time. From Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky" to the recent "When the Circus Came to Hartford Town" commemorating the 1944 circus fire that killed over 100 people, her performances are both intimate and stunningly outgoing. 

Tom Rozum
Supported by what she calls her "West coast band," their performance was thoroughly satisfying and enthusiastically received.  Tom Rozum has been Lewis' musical partner since 1989. They blend wonderfully together, both musically and personally, as he plays off her comments with humor and grace.  The band is interpersonally relaxed and musically tight, a delightful combination.  Lewis makes excellent use of each player's strengths, giving each plenty of opportunity to strut his stuff. Fiddler Chad Manning is always strong, both in support and as a rich and varied soloist.  Andrew Conklin on bass, now a graduate student in musical composition at SUNY Stonington, is stunning on his bass solos and always interesting providing an elaborated and rock solid beat.  Patrick Sauber on banjo is appropriately restrained when necessary yet happy to step out with strong breaks at the appropriate times.  This is as strong an ensemble as any band leader could wish.

Chad Manning

Andrew Conklin
Patrick Sauber

Conklin & Rozum

Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands
"Tuck Away My Lonesome Views" - Video


Laurie Lewis - Back Stage

Della Mae

Della Mae has been growing, changing, and developing its own unique sound and style for several years now. Their performance on Saturday night and their recent triumphs at Rocky Grass and IBMA's World of Bluegrass show that they've arrived.  Celia Woodsmith, whose background is in rock and blues, has made the transition to this bluegrass/Americana band with power and grace. Her bluesy yet clear singing voice and her excellent song writing have helped change and mature the band while charming audiences. Her willingness to become both familiar and adept at presenting traditional bluegrass standards along with her own work hold the band together and keep it firmly planted in bluegrass. Their recent CD "I Built this Heart" contains ten songs penned by Woodsmith.

Celia Woodsmith

It's something of a mistake on my part to feature one performer so prominently here.  The band is a strongly cooperative effort featuring excellent musicians at every position. Kimber Ludiker is poised to emerge to national prominence as a fiddle player, a worthwhile thought for IBMA Fiddle Player of the Year in 2012, well deserving nomination.  Jenny Lyn Gardner on mandolin brings excellent work on her instrument and a good voice to emphasize the band's continuing commitment to bluegrass. Amanda Kowalski on bass reminds us of nothing less than Missy Raines in her energy, her diverse sound, and her use of the full range of instrument. Courtney Hartmann, the newest member of the band, on guitar and harmony vocals, is a whizz of a flat-picker while still a student at Berklee College of Music. Among other things, her appearance in the band further burnishes Berklee's place as one that nurtures young talent and has contributed mightily to the national bluegrass scene in recent years.  This band is one you should request that your local promoter book. Get 'em while you can afford 'em. They're filled with energy, musical versatility, strength at every position, and ever-increasing maturity.  Their performance at Lexington as an opening band garnered a standing ovation and an encore. No small feat for an opening band.

Kimber Ludiker

Jenni Lyn Gardner

Amanda Kowalski
Courtney Hartman

Della Mae - "Sweet Verona" - Video


You can purchase their CD and hear samples from other cuts here. Other songs from the CD can be found on my YouTube channel.  Please subscribe to it to get notices of new additions.

 The BBU has become the premier purveyor and supporter of bluegrass music in New England as well as one of the most interesting and valuable regional associations in the country.  The winter concert series will next feature IIIrd Tyme Out in January with two more concerts to be announced. Meanwhile, its signature bluegrass festival, Joe Val,  held in suburban Framingham, MA is one of the great indoor festivals, perhaps one of the great festivals altogether, always featuring a fine and varied lineup, loads of workshops, and some of the best jamming around. Note that tickets and hotel reservations go on sale on Tuesday morning and rooms at the Sheraton will sell out within ten minutes or so.  Beyond these performance events, BBU provides extensive coverage of all bluegrass events in the region, highlights teachers, and sponsors the Joe Val Kids Academy each year.  Consider supporting this excellent regional bluegrass association.