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Great American

Don't go see Del McCoury just because he cut an album (The Mountain) and toured with Steve Earle. McCoury's anointment by postmodern-country icon Earle is just part of the bluegrass singer, guitarist and bandleader's story. But if the Earle connection -- or the fact that the guys from Phish are among McCoury's biggest fans -- gets you to listen, fine.

Also, don't go see Del McCoury just because he sang and played both guitar and banjo with Bill Monroe, even if, in the grand scheme of things, that counts for much more than the Earle connection.

Yep. Anyone good enough for Monroe and Earle has to be pretty damn special. But Del McCoury should be heard and seen by anyone and everyone with even the slightest taste for roots music. He's "one of those chosen people who are born to sing bluegrass," as Tracy Schwarz put it in his 1968 liner notes to the Arhoolie Records McCoury album, I Wonder Where You Are Tonight. And because McCoury possesses a vital mixture of tradition and innovation, evident on his version of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Nashville Cats" on his most recent CD, The Family, and all too rare in bluegrass since its emergence as well as the "newgrass" heyday of the 1970s. The Del McCoury Band has the chops and reverence to satisfy even the most fascist bluegrass purist, but it operates as if today were the 1950s, when Monroe, Jimmie Martin, Flatt & Scruggs and Ralph and Carter Stanley made the high lonesome sound part of mainstream music. There's good reason why McCoury and his band have been honored as "Entertainer of the Year" by the International Bluegrass Music Association and have appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Simply put, McCoury's the bluegrass man of the moment, as well as a talent for all times.

McCoury's airy, supple tenor is like the voice of God's own best friend, while his rhythm guitar is a bluegrass bedrock of the ages. Sons Ronnie (mandolin) and Rob (banjo) and the rest of the Del McCoury Band know the difference between flash and tasteful restraint, giving the band's shows the sort of mystic musical energy that can transport one's spirit to some backwoods hollow. The Del McCoury Band is bluegrass at its proudest and smartest.

But also see Del McCoury because he's a true gentleman of the old school and a genuine working-class hero, who left the bluegrass circuit to toil at blue-collar jobs just to raise his family right. He's what was once called a Great American, who played a Great American music. He returned to action with his boys during the last decade, in time to inherit the bluegrass mantle from Monroe. He now leads the one act in the genre that is absolute required listening and a fine ol' time to boot. (Rob Patterson)

The Del McCoury Band performs Monday, October 11, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk. Call (713)528-5999.

James Brown

What can you say about James Brown? Let me rephrase that. What more can you can say about James Brown? Well, how about this: In the 1985 teen flick Just One of the Guys, one of the main characters' rooms is filled with James Brown memorabilia.

There. Now there is officially nothing left to say about James Brown.

He performs Saturday, October 9, at the Aerial Theater at Bayou Place, 520 Texas, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $40 and $55. Call (713)629-3700. (Craig D. Lindsey)

 
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