CD reviews

Mountain Music Machine, The Human Condition, Featuring Glen Lawson (MMM): Four Stars

Genre(s): Bluegrass/mountain music.

You’ll like it if: You don’t mind owning a stellar picking CD with no hope of a subsequent tour.

Defining song: “Thinkin’ and Drinkin'” — Lawson praises the merits of cold Bourbon over church, Prozac and Tai Chi.

Deep Gap native Hugh Sturgill wanted a way to represent world-class pickers who value the home life over the gypsy travails of the road. He came up with the Mountain Music Machine, a collective of more than 40 singer/songwriters and string manipulators who pick pro bono. This first official release features Hendersonville, Tenn., native Glen Lawson, who has spent the last 15 years as an insurance auditor and full-time family man. His past pedigree includes a stint with JD Crowe and New South in the ’70s before branching off two years later and forming the band Spectrum with Bela Fleck and Mark Shatz. Lawson’s two-decade layoff seems nonexistent. His pure-as-a-wedding-dress voice tells stories of a farmer’s wife poisoning animals, the questioning of fear-based religion and the evils of a Tennessee coal company. Recorded at Sturgill’s studio in Deep Gap, Lawson is backed by a slew of heavy hitters including 2004 National Resophonic Guitar Champion (and stone mason) Tony Reece. Other standouts include Edwin Lacy’s banjo pirouettes on the instrumental “Monkey Fingers,” and Wendy Roten Arnold’s (of the Arnold and Roten Family Gospel Band) brimstone bellows on “Send Down the Fire.”

Show review

Speedsquare at the New French Bar, Friday, May 12: Five Stars

Genre(s): Experimental, jazz, ragtime, and whatever genre they feel like.

Be glad you stayed home if: You don’t like music.

Defining moment: “Blue Rhondo a la Turk” — The difficult Dave Brubeck staple ended the evening on a jaw-dropping note. Speedsquare demonstrated that, although they are always up for a good time, they can also get instrumentally serious.

For a year, I’ve tried to witness C Scott (drums, guitar, trumpet, melodica, etc.) and Billy Sheeran (piano, vocals, guitar), the duo behind the mighty Speedsquare. Bad decisions, bad scheduling and bad luck have prevented me from seeing perhaps the most imaginative and talented band working in Asheville.

The wait was worth it. I had Andes-sized expectations going into the show, and the duo easily glided over that peak and onto another apex. C Scott (whose past stints include trumpet for Scrappy Hamilton and DR. Ensemble) could opt for the one-man show gig at any carnie outing. Still behind the kit, C Scott would provide a bass-drum beat while playing the trumpet — or any other instrument of his choice. Sheeran, the mad scientist behind the keys, played with the fervor of a man who might be playing the very last note on the planet Earth. No genre went unconquered that evening, which included a rousing rendition of “Jolene” with a guest Dolly Parton impersonator. The best thing about Speedsquare is their accessibility, as emotion-starved shoegazers could be bumped by emotion-laden hippie twirlers, all keenly observed by slow-sipping jazz-bos.

[When he’s not bending readers to his will, Hunter Pope cooks, gardens, hikes and spends his mortgage money on CDs he’s never heard.]

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