Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Louie Setzer & the Appalachian Mountain Boys – Homegrown Music Concert

Now this, my friends, is bluegrass, straight to the bone and hard to the core.
This 55-minute concert comes from a t.v. series out of Pennsylvania (WVIA) called “Homegrown Music”. The music is homegrown as well, featuring one of the many too-little-heard local/regional bluegrass bands that play this music not because they plan to get rich off of it, but because they want to. No – make that “because they have to”.
The group’s leader, guitarist Louie Setzer, sings with a mixture of tough-as-nails Appalachian nasality and growling intensity, adorned with short falsetto yelps. His is not a “pretty” voice, and his style is far from slick, but his singing is strong, honest, and REAL.
Setzer’s chief role model is Jimmy Martin, so it’s no surprise that he’s at his best on 50’s-flavored honky-tonk songs, such as Martin’s “Please Play the Jukebox” and Merle Haggard’s “I’ll Break out Again Tonight”. There are also well-chosen and well-played songs from the Carter Family, Flatt and Scruggs, and Stanley Brothers songbooks. But it should not shock anyone when, in a brief interview segment, Setzer reveals that he began as a country singer, and only later shifted to bluegrass.
All four of the Appalachian Mountain Boys know their way around their instruments, and are equally adept at backing Setzer’s vocals and taking solid solo breaks. I find myself particularly attracted to Danny Stewart’s sparkling mandolin breaks. But fill-in David Cavage (who fits in so well, I was convinced he was a regular band member) is mighty impressive as well. Hear his bluesy licks on “I Bowed My Head and Cried Again”, for example. Fiddler Jim Daniels quietly goes about his business, so that you might not really notice him at first. But listen more closely – the man has taste. Try “Dear old Pal”, for instance. Bass player Ron Penska keeps things moving with his strong bass lines.
The energy flags a bit on the two songs following the interview segment. However, the band pulls back together for “Help Me Make it Through the Night’, which is very effectively taken at an uncharacteristically brisk pace. Things stay on track for the rest of the concert. Seven of the fifteen songs on the DVD also appear on the band’s “On the Air” CD, but the visuals – straightforward as they are - add an extra dimension. Fans will want both discs.
You can order this DVD from for less than the price of many CD’s. If you’re into bluegrass, you’ll want this.