One of the more remarkable things about bluegrass, swing, and various loosely or tightly associated modes is the fact that what practitioners do in the studio, with all the various electronic gimmicks and effects therein, they can do just as well and often better live. Harmonious Wail proves that beyond doubt, as Live at the Zelt Musik Festival is a dragon slayer. From the opening jitterbug of Swing that Thing to the follow-up slo-burn of Eat at Joe's, this ensemble has it nailed tighter than a submarine. Think I'm exaggerating? Stephane Grappelli, a living legend, happened to be at this gig, and when the band ducked into their repertoire, he remarked "They're playing my music!"…even though not one cut here was written by him. The guy recognized kindred spirits when he heard them.
The song roster is almost entirely standards and other classics, an exposition-revival that makes an interesting addition to this group's rather dazzling catalogue. Not just Maggie Delaney-Potthoff's enchanting voice but all the fierce chops that put the 'whoa!' back in 'wail'. Tico Tico is a great example, with Sims Delaney-Potthoff tearing the frets off his mandolin. The temper of the performance, though, ranges from the sensual tones of Swing Slow to quite a few barnburners and much in between, with scatting and vocal pyrotechnics a-plenty—no rock screaming, however, and quite well, thank you very much, for it.
Interestingly, this CD is really much more a showcase for the general style than for the group, as there's a glass museum of purity contained throughout the disc in all available ways, from folky get-togethers to scorching chops fests to the grand meeting of all the Celtic, Balkan, Appalachian modes, to jokey interludes, period Americanisms, and various old-time strains. Though the background crowd noise is panned down, you can tell there are lusty responses to the repertoire, and them there Germans, not to mention all the flanking Euro drop-ins, is well knowed for their love of good ol' roustabout refrains; thus, the decision to travel the waves and arrive at the Zelt Fest was a good one. Wouldn't surprise me a bit, in fact, if it got them a better audience there than here. We do tend to be a bit behind in such things.
This is one of four reviews of Harmonious Wail releases. For the remainder, see here, here, and here.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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