Review - Red Clay Ramblers
Ramblin’ and Stompin’
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Jan. 9
Imagine the musical equivalent of the setting of Charles Dickens’ 1841 novel, The Old Curiosity Shop—an emporium full of dusty antiques and bric-a-brac—and you’ll have an idea of the wide-ranging acoustic show that the marvelous Red Clay Ramblers put on at the 1,200-seat Troy Music Hall. The North Carolina-based group may have started out 36 years ago as an old-time string band, but that description doesn’t convey the phenomenal range of music that the versatile band performed on their dozen-plus instruments. Celtic tunes on pennywhistles. Fiddle hoedowns. Cowboy songs crooned to softly strummed guitars. Long-forgotten Tin Pan Alley numbers with brass accompaniment. Hilarious parodies. And all delivered with the surpassing playing that Frank Rich of The New York Times hailed as “perfection.”
days, the Ramblers’ core members are Jack Herrick on bass, trumpet,
guitar, bouzouki and whistles; Clay Buckner on lead vocals, fiddle,
mandolin and harmonica; Chris Frank on accordion, guitar, tuba, ukulele,
and trombone; and Bland Simpson on piano. An unidentified drummer and
another multi-instrumentalist also were onstage, but introductions of
all kinds—musicians, song titles, and even one by the house for the
opening act, Albany’s own Ramblin’ Jug Stompers—often were neglected.
The Ramblers invoked their old-time origins with a peppy opening medley of breakdowns led by Buckner’s smooth fiddling that included “Fisher’s Hornpipe” and “Big John McNeill” (I only know this because I recognized the tunes). From there they broke out a trumpet and trombone for a Dixieland-flavored version of “Wahoo,” a 1930s Western tune by Tin Pan Alley songsmith Cliff Friend, who also wrote the Hank Williams hit “Lovesick Blues.”
In a surprising changeup, a hoedown became a slowdown as the band rendered the old-time tune “Cotton-Eyed Joe” at a dreamy adagio tempo. Another highlight was Spike Jones’ uproariously funny “Pal-Yat-Chee,” a sendup of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s 1892 opera Pagliacci. For “Dry Bones,” the band put down their instruments and sang a beautiful a cappella call-and-response arrangement of the gospel classic.
Ramblin Jug Stompers’ opening set found them in fine form as they rolled through their easygoing 1920s and ’30s jug-band tunes. Steven Clyde sang with panache, Wild Bill’s bethimbled fingers tripped the light fantastic on his old washboard, and my venerable old banjo teacher Bowtie wowed the crowd with his mastery of both the three-finger and clawhammer styles. But they all paled next to the estimable Mike Eck as he emitted a series of loud Bronx cheers during his bravura jug solo when the Stompers joined the Ramblers at the show’s end.
Sadly, only about 300 people turned out for the performance. Acoustic fans should not miss the Red Clay Ramblers next time.
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