Sunday, January 22, 2012

NAMM - Sunday brings welcome surprises - Americana style!

The Kruger Brothers displayed their amazing musicianship and song craft at NAMM on Sunday afternoon.

With 1,400 or so exhibitors positioned throughout the Anaheim Convention Center and surrounding hotels, the 2012 NAMM Show had plenty to offer visitors trying to take it all in over the course of its 96-hour stay. But the world's largest music products event always hosts an endless number of shows that really are the icing on the cake (much better than spending hours in lines waiting for autographs in my view). While there were no big rock shows scheduled on the music trade show's final day, Sunday (Jan. 22, 20120) offered up magical live performances in the morning and afternoon.

NAMM doesn't come to mind when thinking about a forum to seek modern country-styled artists, but roots and Americana artists were seemingly all over the place on Sunday. Of the acts I saw perform, two really stood out. Another artist, young country music singer Kelly McGrath, was performing in a hall so loud I could not hear her set clearly enough to write an honest review of the performance so I had to move on.

Early in the day, the Tora Bora Boys performed a fun set of bluegrass-styled material in the spirit of the Stanley Brothers and Bill Monroe. With a lineup of six players (several of whom sang well and also harmonized sweetly together), the group attracted a big crowd to the Saga Musical Instruments booth. Highlights of the set included a version of Carter and Ralph Stanley's classic "How Mountain Gals Can Love" and a fiery instrumental tune titled "Fireball Mail" showcasing banjo player Geoff Hohwald. Throughout the set, dobro player Rich Ferris, fiddler Paul Shelasky and mandolin virtuoso David Gartland also displayed their skills. Getting the band booked to play at NAMM was likely a cinch since the Tora Bora Boys' outstanding guitarist is Richard Keldsen, president of Saga.

Even more impressive were the acclaimed Kruger Brothers, widely acknowledged as one of the best and most original folk groups performing today. I had missed the trio when they performed at the Deering Banjo Company booth on Friday and Saturday, so I'm glad I didn't make the mistake again on Sunday. The threesome (lead singer-guitarist Uwe Kruger, banjo player Jens Kruger, bassist Joel Landsberg) provided one of the best-ever sets I have caught at NAMM, moving effortlessly between baroque, bluegrass, folk and even Celtic-flavored material. Even a version of Tennessee William Ford's hit "Sixteen Tons" was totally revised, with textures and layers lending uncharacteristic depth to the song.

After being wowed by the terrific trio's full-length set on Sunday, the Kruger Brothers' 2011 release Appalachian Concerto will likely be my next album purchase.

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