The Quiet Power of Tracy Grammer and Jim Henry

Tracy Grammer and Jim Henry

Greenfield, MA

March 12, 2011

Some singers knock you off your feet and others gently rock you. A Tracy Grammer concert is like falling into a big old featherbed that warms, envelops, and refreshes. As she and sidekick Jim Henry demonstrated to a hometown crowd, there's a lot of power in the soft approach. Grammer is the greatest living interpreter of songs from her firmer partner, Dave Carter, and to hear her sing “Evangeline” or “Crocodile Man” is alone worth the price of admission. The late Dave Carter may have been the best songwriter of the last two decades of the 20th century and, yes, that list includes a guy named Dylan! Grammer is deft in using her soothing and soft voice in ways that allow Carter's ecumenical views--soaked simultaneously in skepticism and deep spirituality-- find their level. Want the uber-endorsement? Check out Grammer’s cover of “The Mountain,” a song that the Dali Lama loves. Grammer has also become a fine interpreter of other writers as well, as she showed in a drop-dead gorgeous cover of David Francey's “Waking Hour,” and some equally fine stuff from writers such as Tom Russell.

Grammer and Jim Henry harmonize beautifully together, with Henry also showcasing tasteful and dynamic accompaniment and arrangements. Henry is also an exceedingly fine act on his own. How many performers would have the moxie to take on a beloved song such as Richard Thompson's “Vincent Black Lightening?” More to the point, how many could cover it without sounding lame? Henry is no RT, but if you had never heard the original you'd be tempted to use the adjective ‘definitive’ for Mr. Henry's crisp rendition. The Greenfield evening was homespun in the finest sense of that word--two gifted individuals playing for folks who reside in their respective backyards. Most of the material has been in their repertoires for several years. No great revelations, but when you can knock 'em over with a feather, why bring out the big guns?


Gibson Brothers Latest a Throwback--Not for Everyone

The Gibson Brothers

Help My Brother

Compass 4945

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Eric (banjo, vocals) and Leigh Gibson (guitar, vocals) have won a few International Bluegrass Music Awards and there’s little denying their talent, especially when they team with the rest of the band: Mike Barber (upright bass), Clayton Campbell (fiddle), and Joe Walsh (mandolin). Help My Brother lives up to its title in that the album’s dozen tracks are mostly upbeat and wholesome. There are sweet love songs, some mountain gospel, and lots of homage to live below the Mason-Dixon Line. Fans of bluegrass in the high lonesome style pioneered by Bill Monroe will like this album quite a lot. Especially stellar are Campbell’s fiddle breakouts.

I did, however, find some of the songs crossing the line between wholesome and trite. Verse such as “He can be found in a mother’s smile/He can be founding the eyes of a child” are from the June/spoon/moon school of writing and don’t rank very high on the sophistication scale. For the most part, though, how well you enjoy this album will depend upon where you fall on traditional bluegrass versus “newgrass” spectrum. As one who has been spoiled by rising lights such as Railroad Earth and Crooked Still, I found my attention drifting. I begrudge no one who likes this release, but it’s just too wholesome and too yesterday for my taste.