Steve Earle is a man of execrable character and a voice to match. I would add only that he has written some fine, fine songs and that I asked Rocket Man to join me at his show because he was accompanied by the Del McCoury Band, one of the most awesome bluegrass bands now performing. I think Del and the boys (two of the band members are Del’s sons) belong in the company of Alison and Lyle, so that in the interest of fairness the ratio should be upped to three out of four. I should add that it is a true measure of Rocket Man’s tact and kindness that he has waited roughly four years to tell me he did not enjoy Steve Earle that evening.
Yesterday evening my wife and I attended the “Down from the Mountain” tour at the Xcel Center in St. Paul, described well in Jon Bream’s review in today’s Star Tribune. The tour is an updated Grand Ole Opry-style variety show featuring several of the previously obscure giants of bluegrass and traditional American music who perform on the “O Brother Where Art Thou?” soundtrack. The movie was written by Minnesota’s own Coen brothers and is an adaptation of the Odyssey to Depression-era America. George Clooney stars as a buffoonish escaped convict in search of home and family. The Coen brothers obviously love bluegrass and traditional American music; the music is the true hero of the film. Fittingly enough, the soundtrack has become a phenomenon in its own right, selling six million copies and making bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley a superstar. The popularity of the soundtrack created the phenomenon of the “Down from the Mountain” tour.
Both Stanley and the voice of George Clooney–Alison Krauss guitarist Dan Tyminski–performed the movie’s key song, Stanley’s “Man of Constant Sorrow,” in the show last night. The artists and their performances whizzed from peak to peak over the course of three and a half hours. The show closed with Ralph Stanley bringing all the members of the tour onstage–a cast including Del and the boys, Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Rodney Crowell, the Whites, Ricky Skaggs and his bluegrass band, and Norman and Nancy Blake–to perform a sing-along version of the traditional hymn “Amazing Grace.” In true bluegrass style, Stanley sent us on our way having invoked God’s blessing on the audience and on America. A transcendent evening.
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