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"Down From the Mountain" hits home

Tsongas Arena, Lowell, Mass., June 30, 2002

By Jeffrey B. Remz

LOWELL, MA. - The artistic and commercial success for one of the most improbable, left field smashes in years, the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack continues with nary a hitch.

Not only are albums ales for the soundtrack of Olld Time, bluegrass and country music still going quite strong more than 1 1/2 years later, but a second incarnation of the "Down From the Mountain " tour featuring artists either on the soundtrack or singing a similar stle of music is in full swing this summer.

And with a few line-up changes aboard, still in quite good hands.

The style of the three-hour show was similar to the winter foray - each act played a few songs, often augmented by other performers appearing on the program.

While not the traditional vehicle for giving a concert, the flow seemed to work better than during the first round, although that could have been more a case of the listener being more in tune with the format than the music itself necessarily being stronger.

The performances themselves, however, also did seem a tad sharper this time around. Rodney Crowell was the emcee for this tour, replacing Bob Neuwirth. Crowell, who also sang later in the show ("In the Jailhouse Now"), was likable in his role of introducuing the performers, who were far more of his generation than Neuwirth's.

None of the perfomers - Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Ricky Skaggs, the Del McCoury Band, Jerry Douglas, Dan Tyminski (also in Krauss' band and the voice in the movie of George Clooney singing "A Man of Constant Sorrow") The Whites, the Nashville Bluegrass Band, Chris Thomas King and Norman Blake - could be accused of turning in anything resembling a slack performance. Skaggs and McCoury were most welcome newcomers to this version of the tour.

In fact, there was an excellent potpourri of styles and singing voices represented throughout the evening.

Stanley closed the proceedings again with "O Death," a song from his brand new self-titled disc, "Girl From the Greenbriar Shore " before dong a stirring duet with Patty Loveless, "Pretty Polly," which they put on disc on "Clinch Mountain Country" a few years ago, and the close of the regular set, "A Man of Constant Sorrow," the most popular song from "O Brother" and the one capturing a slew of awards.

Stanley, 75, could be an acquired taste for some vocally and musically, but he is truly an American musical legend. While short time-wise (everyone was of course), the Virginian made the most use of his time.

Loveless, once again, proved her mountain roots are no fluke. She had an excellent "Mountain Soul" disc out a year ago and was not on the soundtrack, but has been on both tours. Loveless sings of the coal miner's life ("You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive") with a lot of cred - her father died from black lung disease.

Krauss and Harris, of course, both possess angelic voices, though Harris proved to be undermiked a few times. Still, they made for fine singing.

Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder turned in lively runs of "Rank Stranger" (he said he learned the Stanley Brothers song from his parents growing up and thought they had written it), the bluegrass staple "Uncle Pen" and "Black Eyed Susan."

All were aboard for the encore of the Stanley's "Angel Band' and "Amazing Grace." Yes, how sweet the sound emanating from the second version of the Down From the Mountain tour.

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