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Not your typical gig, but Cash, Tuttle display musical wares

Berklee Performance Center, Boston, December 4, 2022

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

The concert featuring Rosanne Cash, Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway, Loudon Wainwright III and Ali McGuirk seemed great on paper. Artists at different stages of their careers. Different musical styles and sounds. And a low-key, but enjoyable atmosphere.

But this not a "regular" night out for music by any stretch. This was a Mountain Stage show, the NPR program out of West Virginia with the concert edited and broadcast after the fact. And with a radio show of two hours, that meant that this also wasn't a typical gig when it came to its length. Artists had limited time on stage. Production needs sometimes slowed the pace down.

But then there was the music.

Headlining the show, Rosanne Cash has aged extremely well. Cash certainly did not rest on her musical laurels either. At 67, Cash's voice remains expressive, heartfelt and warm.

For Cash, it's not just about singing the songs, but providing a meaningful explanation if need be ("The Sunken Lands" was based on her family history in Arkansas on the Cash side) and placing the song in context.

She also had a crack band helping her out including husband John Leventhal on electric and acoustic guitars and long-time Boston mainstay Kevin Barry on acoustic and often lap steel.

Cash has not released an album since 2018's "She Remembers Everything" from which she offered "Crossing to Jerusalem" and "The Only Thing Worth Fighting For." Topping off the nine-song gig with the chestnut of "Seven Year Ache," with a performance like this, it made one hope for hew music and a lot more time on stage from Cash.

Tuttle made the most of her far far too short set (32 minutes!). For those who were unfamiliar with Tuttle beforehand, she, yet again, showed she's the real deal. Great guitarist. Expressive singer. High-end songs. It's no surprise that she has won the International Bluegrass Music Association Guitarist of the Year award, the first female to do so, and this year her first Female Vocalist of the Year. Tuttle may be a lower key version of Billy Strings (in fact, they were once roommates in Nashville). She is that good.

But this was not a one-woman band either as she was helped throughout by mandolinist Dominick Leslie, banjoist Kyle Tuttle (no relation), fiddle player Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, and bassist Shelby Means. The lithe Keith-Hynes was a force to be reckoned with thanks to her numerous fiddle runs. Each player added to the pervasive joy of the music.

A little bit of Tuttle is certainly better than nothing, but for the uninitiated, a full-fledged Tuttle show is a musical must.

Music may tend to be considered a young person's game, but don't ever mention that to Wainwright, who played into his age. At 76, the humorist (he's also an actor) embraces aging. Wainwright was at his best in songs like "How Old Is 75?" with lyrics including Tell me how old is 75
So old that you're barely alive
In five years I'll be 80
I will hear the fat lady
Belly flop jackknife swan dive"

Wainwright won't win any awards for his vocal delivery although it improved over his half hour. He's more about the gestalt of the song and topics.

He sat down at one point and offered a very very funny spoken word piece about his future memorial service. Like most of the rest of his time, Wainwright was quite humorous and insightful. Whether that would have held up over the course of a full-length show could be a matter of taste. Under these circumstances, Wainwright's set was most welcome.

McGuirk suffered the most from sound issues as she seemed to sing more off mic than on throughout. Perhaps that contributed to what seemed to be a tentativeness by the Vermont native, who plays an amalgam of blues and jazz. McGuirk never quite found her footing, though she showed promise on a few bluesy numbers.

Kathy Mattea, a West Virginia native, hosted the show, offered a ho hum at best version of the Mountain Home theme song, but later acquitted herself on "Ode to Billy Joe" where her smoky tenor was spot on. Mattea's other duties pretty focused on reading advertisements and bios (one presumes the ads could have been inserted later outside the concert setting as the show is edited for radio anyway), but doing so interrupted the flow of the live show for fans.

The problem with the format was that it was not a momentum builder and forced artists into short sets. A half hour of Tuttle, for example, was just a small taste of her wonderful, lyrical playing.

The evening ended - perhaps predictably - with the ensemble offering of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" with Mattea and Mountain Home creator and singer Larry Groce helping out as well. More good singing and playing closed out a generally enjoyable night of music – technical and production concerns aside.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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