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Mountain Stage comes to Beantown

Berklee Performance Center, Boston, May 17, 2007

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

West Virginia traditionally is the home base for the Mountain Stage concert show featuring a diverse group of artists on NPR radio stations. But on this night, Boston was home to artists ranging from Judy Collins to R&B/gospel great Mavis Staples to several rootsy/folky artists as part of the Mountain Stage on tour.

Boston-area act Lori McKenna opened the evening with a singer/songwriter-based set, though she veers towards a harder edge vocally. McKenna, a mother of five, who enjoyed the great fortune of having Faith Hill record three of her songs on her last disc, shows a good eye in penning songs about everyday life, including the title track of her August release on Warner, "Unglamorous."

Todd Snider is a veteran of the Mountain Stage series, having made his seventh appearance, and it's easy to see why. The guy is a real charmer delivering his sort of stoner rootsy music.

Snider possesses an easy-going persona, and while his voice is adequate, what really stands out his ability to deliver the songs. That was especially true of the long, politically charged "Conservative Christian Right Wing Republican," which lightened the anti-Bush administration political bent thanks to humorous lyrics.

Lucy Kaplansky, a folk artist in the Suzanne Vega/Shawn Colvin mold, who now is leaning towards a more country sound, followed with a solid set, punctuated by her take on June Carter Cash/Merle Kilgore's "Ring of Fire." If an artist is going to offer such a well-known cover, they had better ensure they're doing something different with it because otherwise it's pointless. In the case of Kaplansky, a New York artist with a solid disc, "Over the Hills," (Red House) out in March, she slowed down the song a bit, softened it up musically and put her own voice on it.

Staples proved to be the most divergent on the bill, following in the footsteps of her famous gospel/R&B family, the Staple Singers. Staples brought an energy to the proceedings especially with the closing chestnut "I'll Take You There." Most of her music was religious themed and certainly uplifting.

Collins may be in her 60s, but she did not appear much the worse for wear. Her voice seemed to be in good shape, and she remains committed to putting out new music, even, as she joked, if it is on her own label. Collins played a few songs from her next disc, a Lennon and McCartney tribute album with good readings of "Yesterday" and "Blackbird." It seemed fitting for Collins to do this type of disc as several of her between song comments focused on the 60s, almost as if Collins was willing to date herself.

This was not your typical concert setting. While the five acts did their short - generally about 25-minute - sets uninterrupted and without redoing any song (well Collins had trouble apparently remembering the words to one song and restarted it without any problems, and Snider acknowledged that he changed one word in a song), the same could not be said for between act set up.

The short sets generally left listeners wanting more. Larry Groce, who hosts the show, engaged in delaying tactics on several occasions to make time for a speaker to be changed and the acts to properly set up. The Mountain Stage Band also played a few songs. The result was that the concert ended up going longer - about 3 hours - than it should have.

But, fortunately, the quality of the music more than made up for it. This was an evening that was a change of pace for area audiences and a welcome one at that.

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