Del McCoury: High on a Mountain and in Good Company

Del McCoury BandThe Del McCoury Band played to a packed audience at City Winery on Saturday night that rewarded their super-charged soulful music with three encores. How often do you see that happen for a performance of any kind in this town?

Del’s note bending holler, easily lifting into falsetto at will, and masterful dynamics commanded the audience. Without a word he could gently quell the clap-alongers and graciously appease the yelling for various tunes from multiple eras. The songs spanned from his Bill Monroe days, In Despair, to the Dixie Pals on Rebel, White House Blues, to the Del McCoury Band on Rounder, Blackjack County Chains, the Ceili label, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning and blisteringly speedy Gone But not Forgotten and, Sweet Appalachia and I’m Justified, on McCoury Music.

Ronnie’s quick twitch over the mandolin strings still seems superhuman to me. I found out after the show that Robbie is left-handed even though he has mastered Scruggs-style banjo as a right-hander. Alan sang a beautiful Kentucky Waltz.

Jason’s connection to Del’s singing has evolved into an inter-relatedness that matches his fiddle’s electricity with Ronnie’s mandolin. His bowing and noting humors, accentuates or consoles the tenor’s every mood and whimsy. As a singer, it’s immensely difficult to stay on pitch and in focus with the fiddler “talking back.” They revel in the fun of it.

The trio singing of Jason, Ronnie and Del was superb. Jason’s rich baritone had even more presence than I remember at previous concerts. The poignancy to the duets between Ronnie and Del increases every time I hear them live. Their heads lean in toward each other as they savor the sweetness of it all with us.

The Del McCoury Band’s week in New York City has not even begun. Letterman on Tuesday night and back at City Winery on Wednesday night. Both appearances are with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Don’t miss them.