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Della Mae has a lot left in the tank

Club Passim, Cambridge, Mass., May 24, 2024

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Della Mae had not played the historic Club Passim (until doing two shows the previous night) for a good decade.

At some level, it felt like Della Mae has been lying low despite occasional releases. But now, they seem be ramping it up after self-releasing singles over the past year and doing very short concert runs.

The three shows at the 100-person club sold out in advance with each one different. The closing show offered a great night for an intimate outing from Della Mae playing both old new and a healthy number of new songs. "The first two songs had an old song ("Bluebird Blackbird") and a new song (maybe a slow country song, "Trail My Way"), and that's how the rest of the night is going to go," said lead singer Celia Woodsmith.

Some of the new songs have yet to see the light of day, but sounded just fine. And some of the new songs for Della Mae – covers of CSN&Y's "Ohio" and "Can't Let Go" (written by Randy Weeks, Lucinda Williams had a hit with it) were released by the band on their own last year. This is a band that has a knack for picking left-of-center songs that work well when done Della Mae style. Older material, such as a slightly revamped "Boston Town," have aged well.

Now down to a quartet, Della Mae is – make no mistake about it - a true band. Celia Woodsmith on lead vocals and occasional acoustic guitar remains one excellent singer with such command of the songs with her slightly husky voice.

But she was not alone as Della Mae also thrived on often three-part vocal harmonies from upright bassist Vickie Vaughn, acoustic guitarist Avril Smith and fiddle/mandolin ace Kimber Ludiker.

Vaughn, who won the prestigious International Bluegrass Music Association Bassist of the Year award last September, was the latest member to join (2020). Smart move as Vaughn proved to be an excellent addition. The Kentucky native (she has the drawl to prove it) certainly can play, and she took lead vocals on a traditional country song, "I Compare Everyone to You," from her upcoming solo country disc.

Since it started 15 years ago Della Mae has been billed as a bluegrass band. That is becoming less and less apparent as the country sound, which has been part of Della Mae's sound seemingly forever, predominated.

Smith and Ludiker only have gotten better with age. Ludiker was engaging not only with her wonderful fiddle and mandolin playing (perhaps none more so than on their take of John Hartford's lyrically revamped "You Don't Have to Do That"), but also her many humorous comments from the stage. And Smith, a low-key personality, pro-actively infused the songs with her precise, but warm guitar playing.

With good reason, it's great to see Della Mae performing and releasing new material. Playing such a small club for them was a real treat. Della Mae has enjoyed a good run, but with outings like this, Della Mae clearly has a lot left in the tank.

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