One Camp Street
Cambridge, MA 02140
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Henry Koretzky
The Dry Branch Fire Squad has made its reputation with a distinctive blend of traditional bluegrass and old-time material, but their concert and festival performances have always been what set them apart from ordinary bands. With mandolinist Ron Thomason at the helm, weaving his introductions and anecdotes into their set by way of his folksy humor and "wise fool" stage persona, Dry Branch has developed a niche as one of the most thoroughly entertaining live bands currently travelling the bluegrass circuit. Therefore, it was a surprise that their extensive LP and CD catalog consisted entirely of studio recordings.
LIVE! AT LAST is a welcome correction of this imbalance. Recorded in concert in Massachusetts in the spring of 1995, this CD includes as many of Thomason's mini-monologues as it does songs, but you never get the sense that the balance is less than perfect. What the music and stories have in common are the veneer of simplicity veiling a complex form. It doesn't matter whether you're listening to Suzanne Thomas's haunting vocal or dead-on clawhammer banjo on "Red Rocking Chair" and Bill Evans's acrobatic banjo syncopations during "Late Last Night" and "Bluegrass Breakdown," or Thomason's sly jabs at Jesse Helms, Bob Dylan, and Clarence Thomas as asides in his hilarious tales (or even his mandolin quote of the theme from PETER GUNN). Either way you're likely to hear virtuosity, musical or verbal, subtly put to the service of telling a story in the best way possible. And Dry Branch's harmonies, rounded out by guitarist Mary Jo Leet and bassist Charlie Leet, are richly textured, bringing new life to such frequently recorded songs as Stephen Foster's "Hard Times" and Si Kahn's "Aragon Mill."
LIVE! AT LAST is all you can ask of a concert recording. It captures the unique spirit of the Dry Branch Fire Squad in a way that can be exceeded only by catching the band themselves the next time they come to town. Whether you're drawn to great traditional music or spoken comedy, there's sure to be plenty to please you on this disc.
Edited by Kerry Dexter