Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Piccolo highlight: Lovell Sisters at Music Hall (wow)

Posted by T. Ballard Lesemann on Sat, May 31, 2008 at 5:30 PM

Through two sets of original songs, various bluegrass and country standards, and reworkings of blues and pop songs, Georgia acoustic group The Lovell Sisters delighted a packed house at the early-afternoon gig (Sat. May 31) at the Charleston Music Hall (37 John St.). Presented by the venue and Bennett Hoffard Company, fiddler/singer Jessica Lovell, dobro player/singer Megan Lovell, and mandolinist/singer Rebecca Lovell were in fine form and very high spirits.

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Backed by additional guitarist Matt Wingate (a MerleFest guitar pickin’ champ) and upright bassist Andy Nall (a longtime Lovell family friend from the hometown of Calhoun, Ga.), the Sisters blazed through their first set, offering plenty of newly-written material (“Blood is Thicker,” a ballad about a inter-sibling love triangle stood out) and a few gems off their album When Forever Rolls Around (Jessica said, “We’d like to do one from our first album … well, it’s out only album so far, but that just sounds better!”).

There was plenty clowning around, sassiness, and genuine graciousness between Jessica, Megan, and Rebecca — which was amusing and endearing, but three main elements of the concert struck the audience: the sisters’ high level of technical skill on their individual instruments; their distinctive singing styles and vocal agility; and their increasingly expansive song compositions.

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While Jessica may have stood out as the more vocal “frontlady” with the jumpiest stage presence and more to say on the mic between songs (she’s a fun and respectful emcee), Rebecca shined brightly with fiery virtuosity on the mandolin and a deep, soulful singing style — a hugely impressive feat, as she’s a mere 17 years of age. On dobro and lap steel, Megan’s solid technique and more stoic on-stage demeanor added balance to the boisterous jammin’ happened across the stage (at one point, she dedicated a piece to Union Station dobroist Jerry Douglas — “the man who inspired me to play this instrument”). All three swapped solos with Wingate, who dazzled with his dizzying flat-picking.

All three sang beautifully through out the night — from tearful melancholic original ballads like “Cryn’ My Heart Out” to grassed-up version of Johnny Cash, a cool-strumming cover of Don Williams, and a respectful cover of Linda Ronstadt (their “chilled out” version of Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt’s “I’m Blowing Away” was inspired by a clip on YouTube.com).

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One of the more amusing moments came during a closing number (a “train song … not too fast, please”). It’s always cool to see a professional act recover from mishap — especially with humor and grace. Jessica stood at the mic after the intro looking sightly confused while the rest of group played though what should have been the first verse. Her bandmates started grinning and cracking up. Jessica looked over to Rebecca, then to Megan, then stopped the song. “I can’t remember the first verse!” Her sisters nearly fell down laughing (Rebecca actually dropped to her knees), and the crowd chuckled with them. “Should we play this again?” Jessica asked. The audience roared, and they tore back into it, nailing every solo and vocal harmony. Such a recovery would have won approval from most audiences, but this audience had been totally won-over by the opening tune.

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