BR5-49 shows they are the right number to call
Paradise, Boston, May 14, 1997
By Jeffrey B. Remz
BOSTON - BR5-49 may not exactly be burning up country radio station play lists even if they may well be the next big thing in country.
But the lack of radio play is not their fault as a smallish crowd at the Paradise Wednesday could attest. Though the band - its name comes from a line on the Hee Haw television show - harks back to the sound of country in the '40's with a spare feel and lots of pedal steel, they put their own tattoo on the music.
Throughout their 90-minute set, BR5-49 made the music sound just right for the late '90's after the line dance fad has faded and country may shift away from its pop direction towards its roots.
The show was far different in terms of song selection than its coming out gig in January at Johnny D's in Somerville where the lines were out the door in cold weather. The January show featured covers of many well known songs of yesteryear interspersed with songs mainly written by lead singers Chuck Mead and Gary Bennett.
At the Paradise, listeners only had the feeling the songs must have been nuggets of a different era. Some, in fact, were. Bennett did a credible job on the opener, "I Been to Georgia On a Fast Train," a hit for Billy Joe Shaver. And they had the audience helping out with an old song, "What's the Matter With the Mill?" done by many stars.
BR5-49, with a few country and Grammy awards show nominations under its belt, delivered the goods as well on "Honky Tonk Song" and "I Ain't Never," both hits for Webb Pierce, "Crazy Arms," originally a huge smash for Ray Price and "Cherokee Boogie," a Moon Mullican song.
The list of songs contained many the band wrote, but have yet to even record. Yet, the BR5-49 penned songs perfectly complemented the gems of yesteryear. Mead, who is close to a dead ringer for Robert Redford, said after the show he considered it a compliment for listeners to think their songs were actually old songs.
Bennett and Mead shared lead vocals quite capably and sometimes even traded lines and did duets. Each more than holds his own with Mead the smoother voice and Bennett's possessing a grittier set of chords.
Musically, this was a band that came to play. The strength, once again, was Don Herron, who excelled on pedal steel and fiddle. He had a particular chance to shine on the instrumental "Lady Be Good" where he switched between instruments.
Smilin' Jay McDowell, decked out in a resplendent purple suit and slick black hair, slapped the upright bass with authority while drummer Hawk Shaw Wilson maintained a steady beat.
BR5-49 built the set well with the intensity picking up as the evening wore on with the lines of the "One Long Saturday Night," the close to the regular set, being appropriate. Mead sang, "We sleep all day. We play all night." Probably neither is exactly true, but the latter would have satisfied the crowd.
Wayne the Train Hancock opened with an at times ragged, but ultimately right set. The Texan is a direct musical descendent of Hank Williams, which comes through loud and clear vocally.
Hancock encountered several missteps, such as forgetting words to one song and playing another too fast, but he has the proper respect for the music. With his upright bass player making his debut at the Paradise, Hancock et al will only improve with more dates under their belts.
This was an evening for country as it ought to be played. Don't bother even trying to hear the likes of Hancock or BR5-49 on any commercial radio station. The problem is that they play country the way it was meant to be played. When considering this music, remember how the old Hee Haw routine goes: "the number to call is BR5-49."