Walter Tunis: Bluegrass bonanza includes Del McCoury Band

Contributing Music WriterJanuary 9, 2014 

The Del McCoury Band — Jason Carter, left, Rob McCoury, Ronnie McCoury, Del McCoury and Alan Brightram — plays at Headliners in Louisville on Friday.

COURTESY OF DEL MCCOURY BAND

Del McCoury Band, Whiskey Bent Valley

8 p.m. Jan. 10 at Headliners Music Hall, 1386 Lexington Rd., Louisville. $25. (502) 584-8088. Headlinerslouisville.com.

Custom Made Bluegrass

8 p.m. Jan. 10 at Natasha's Bistro & Bar, 112 Esplanade. $10. (859) 259-2754. Beetnik.com.

Marty Raybon and Full Circle, Steve Bonadel and One Iota

7 pm Jan. 11 at Meadowgreen Park Music Hall, Clay City. $12. (606) 663-9008. Kyfriends.com.

Bluegrass continues its winter rule this weekend with three major performances in three cities over two nights. Not a bad showing for a style of music usually associated with summer.

Friday is the big one. If you're up for a road trip to Louisville, you can catch one of the most prestigious bluegrass troupes of recent decades, The Del McCoury Band.

McCoury remains, after some 50-plus years of making music, the standard by which all bluegrass artists who have emerged after him are rightly compared. He has the credentials (a 1960s stint with Bill Monroe), the voice (a remarkably clear high mountain tenor), the band (a virtuoso troupe that features two of his sons) and the attitude (one is hard-pressed to find a bluegrass artist, on- or offstage, who visibly enjoys his work more).

The McCoury Band is also in the midst of another career renaissance. Its newest record, The Streets of Baltimore, is up for best bluegrass album this month at the Grammy Awards. The record provides a regal but crisply traditional bluegrass spin on country hits by Bobby Bare (the title tune), Brenda Lee (Too Many Rivers), Jerry Lee Lewis (Once More With Feeling) and the jazz standard Misty. It follows two equally far-reaching recording projects McCoury issued in 2011: American Legacies, a stylistic mash-up with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and Old Memories, a splendid, no-frills Monroe tribute.

McCoury fans also should note that the band, minus father Del — specifically, mandolinist Ronnie McCoury, banjoist Rob McCoury, fiddler Jason Carter and bassist Alan Bartram — will perform in Lexington at Buster's on Jan. 22 as The Travelin' McCourys. They will be opening for — and collaborating with — Yonder Mountain String, one of the many newer generation, jam-directed groups that have been influenced by the McCoury Band over the years.

While the McCourys hold court in Louisville on Friday, Natasha's Bistro in Lexington will get in on the fun with a performance by Custom Made Bluegrass.

A favorite of regional venues, especially during the summer festival season, Custom Made Bluegrass is very much a Kentucky enterprise. Its members were raised in Versailles, Harrodsburg and Pikeville and now live in Winchester, Georgetown and Nicholasville.

The band's sound is strongly traditional with strong Southern gospel accents within its harmonizing. But derivative it isn't. Custom Made Bluegrass's album Big Barn Road consists exclusively of original songs, most of which were written by guitarist Van Ramey and mandolinist Ron Bowling. Dobroist Steve Maynard contributed Full Stride. Banjoist Kevin Chilton and bassist Barry Boggess round out the band lineup.

Custom Made Bluegrass isn't about to go into hibernation this winter. It will be back in the region for a performance Jan. 18 at Meadowgreen Park Music Hall in Clay City.

Speaking of Clay City, Meadowgreen Park completes this weekend's bluegrass concert lineup with the return of one of its annual visitors. Playing Saturday will be Monty Raybon and Full Circle.

Although the Alabama-born singer has been a prolific bluegrass performer, songwriter and recording artist during the past decade, many audiences know him best for the 12 years (1985 to 1997) he spent with the contemporary country band Shenandoah.

Little of Raybon's newer music harkens back to the band, however. Even the cover of Webb Pierce's Slowly (I'm Falling), one of the few non-original tunes on Raybon's new album The Back 40, suggests the harmony-rich sounds of such contemporary bluegrass outfits as Blue Highway.

Steve Bonadel and One Iota will open for Raybon. For a complete lineup of Meadowgreen Park concerts, which run through April, go to Kyfriends.com.

Brad Paisley's new path

Normally, Rupp Arena would be due a concert visit by Brad Paisley this month. The country star has been playing the venue on an every-other- January basis for several years. But he has become the latest to bypass Lexington in favor of the KFC Yum Center in Louisville.

To compensate, Paisley is playing two regional shows this weekend. His Beat This Winter Tour performs Friday at the Eastern Kentucky Expo Center in Pikeville (7:30 p.m.; $37.75-$57.75) before heading to Louisville on Saturday for the Yum Center show (7:30 p.m.; $37.75, $56.75).

Chris Young (of Getting' You Home and Tomorrow fame) and Danielle Bradbery, the teen singer who last year became the youngest champion on the TV talent contest The Voice, will open both concerts.

Tickets for both shows are available through Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com.

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