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Summertown Road proves to be a work in progress with musical chops

Johnny Ds, Somerville, Mass., July 2, 2009

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

After the first set by bluegrass quartet Summertown Road, a person attending the show told lead singer Bo Isaac how it was too bad they didn't have anything to sell. Heck, the Kentucky band doesn't even have a web site at this point (although they do have a MySpace page).

They will have music out soon enough, well once 2010 rolls around, but, for now, Summertown Road will have to depend upon their live show to spread their word. And they did pretty darn well during a 2-set, 2 -hour show before about 75 people.

The band combined originals with covers from the likes of A.P. Carter, Bill Monroe and others for their brand of bluegrass.

Isaac is the focal point since he handles most of the lead singing chores. That was a good thing because he offered a strong voice. He infused the songs with an ability to take them over. The same could not be said for bassist Randy Thomas and mandolin/fiddle player John Rigsby. Rigsby took the second most vocals on the night, but he was off pitch at times and just did not offer the same sense of command of the vocals as Isaac. What worked particularly well was when Isaac and Rigsby sang together (Talk to Your Heart). Thomas was okay vocally, but he also lacked the energy of Isaac.

The strength of the band was the musicianship. Jack Hicks, who once upon a time played with the late Conway Twitty and with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys as a teen, was stellar on banjo. He took a lot of leads and at times would trade off lines with Rigsby. He, in turn, also turned in a meaty performance no matter what instrument he played. Thomas on acoustic bass guitar was a presence underneath as well. Standouts included Billy and the Low Ground and Carter's Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow.

About the only question for Summertown Road is where they will be at vocally. Besides figuring out who sings what, they will probably, in time, develop stronger stage patter that doesn't sound quite as canned. They already recorded a 14-song CD, which Rounder will put out in early 2010 with Don Rigsby, John's brother, producing. The band clearly has the musical chops.

To their defense, they only have played together since January, although they have 108 dates on the calendar this year already. They will doubtlessly grow even tighter as a band. So, maybe Summertown road is a bit of a work in process. Who knows - maybe they'll even have a web site.

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