Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
hen a group goes through a major upheaval, as in one of the two founding members leaving, the question must be posed of whether the group should and is capable of carrying on.
Such was the case with BR549 in the wake of the departure of Gary Bennett, who now is mapping out his own solo career.
Truth be told, the remaining members of BR549, now a quartet, instead of a quintet and with some other personnel changes, are getting along quite fine thank you based on their brand new release and a spirited show.
"Dog Days," which came out about 10 days before the concert is a very strong album. It's a bit different in no small part because Chuck Mead handles all of the lead vocals except for "You Are the Queen," where new upright bassist Mark Miller (not the lead singer of Sawyer Brown, but, instead, once a member of The Ex-Husbands) sings credibly.
Certainly no knock at Bennett, who was an integral part of the band, but BR549 did not seem to miss him very much.
John Keane, known for his work with REM, produced the disc and did a fine job as well, keeping the basic sound intact, but perhaps expanding the musical horizons, even going bluesy with "Lower Broad St. Blues."
In concert, BR549, which gained fame as a retro sounding band dressed in old style clothing, pulls it off quite well also. Playing almost all of the new disc's 11 songs could be risky before a largely unfamiliar audience, but there is a lot of accessibility in the band's work without being overtly commercial.
In songs like "After the Hurricane" and "Leave It Alone," there is a catchiness there with enough familiar musical themes to entice the listener.
Mead is a very strong singer with a sonorous voice and is commanding enough of a presence to occupy center stage.
Don Herron is a musical tour de force on fiddle, pedal steel, organ and electric mandola. He may be on the diminutive side, but the guy can play and adds a tremendous amount to the BR549 sound.
Drummer Shaw Wilson isn't flashy, but he maintains a simple, steady beat throughout and keeps the music moving at the right pace.
Change can be difficult for bands to deal with - there was some question about whether BR549 would even continue a few times in their career - but it's good that they decided to forge on smaller, but still with style.
The Avett Brothers - two of the three really are brothers - from North Carolina opened with an energetic sort of very souped up old time set with banjo, upright bass and acoustic guitar.
While their hearts are in the right place, The Avetts suffer from not trusting their instincts. When they tone down the sound, they offer a good degree of diversity, but then they rev it up again and lose something in translation.
And also, no need to literally scream in at least four songs. It gets old. Fast.