Denver, Colorado
The Fillmore Auditorium
March 28, 2005

[John Wood], [Marsha Baker]

Review by John Wood

Well, I wasn't at a karioke bar -- you couldn't get me
*near* one for that matter -- but I did catch a very fine show
by Uncle Bob, Merle Haggard and Amos Lee last night.

Amos Lee's set was quite entertaining, with a tasty 3-piece
guitar-upright bass-drums mix playing some nice semi-folkish
material, and closed with a soothing cover of "A Change Is
Gonna Come."

Merle Haggard and the Strangers were a blast! Merle was in
sound voice and played some tasty "chicken" leads on his
telecaster.  His band is clearly a well oiled unit in
the same vein as Willie Nelson's, clean and straight to the
point, yet following Merle closely and carefully.  You
can guess some of the highlights -- Mama Tried, a fun-as-hell
Okie From Muskogee -- but Merle also showed a great command
of his voice as crooner with a lilting take of "Unforgettable."
And his take of Lefty Frizzell's "If You've Got The Money"
was a grinning hell-raiser for the crowd, which ate it up!

As for Uncle Bob...look, I've been there when he's flat-out
sucked (the late 80s - 1991 in many spots).  What I heard
last night did not! If anything, a good portion of the music
has changed, with some new twists.  And he continues to
rework his material and *challenge* his audience!  That
said,  I enjoyed last night just fine, thank you very much.

First and foremost...comments on the new musicians in his band.
Oh, Elana!!! Not only was Elana very easy on the eyes, her expert
fiddling gave tunes like "Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum" a new
personality (think the signature riff accented by fiddle).
Not to mention a good listener, as not only did she sharply
pick up cues, she was not hesitant to take over a lead.
Onstage, she also adds a feminine grace to the band, with
a girl-next-door beauty and charm...ok, I wanna marry her!;-):-}

Donnie Herron played some tasty pedal steel more rooted in
country than his predecessors (Larry Campbell, Bucky Baxter),
adding a lovely texture.  He was also solid on banjo (a cool
and most welcomed Blind Willie McTell) and also played
some nice runs on fiddle.  Denny Freeman played some nice
leads on guitar, albeit a bit restrained to his ears.  As
for the mainstays, Stu Kimball seems to have a comfort zone,
with several of his to-the-point solos getting some animated 
response from Uncle Bob.  George Recile has toned down some of 
his accents a bit, and as a result, his drumming has become a 
solid anchor like his predecessor David Kemper.  And of course, 
Tony Garnier remains Tony Garnier, simply keeping it all together 
while quietly keeping the band in check.  One thing I have 
noticed: In the past, Tony was the band's musical director
and called the shots on cues and such:  A good portion of that 
is now handled by Uncle Bob.

As for Uncle Bob, yes his voice has that Tom Waits sandpaper
edge, but for me, it's always been about the phrasing, and
there was plenty of neat turns.  "To Be Alone With You" was
a nice rocker out of the gate, and this band is certainly made
for tunes like "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight", both accented
by those ideosynchric harp leads from Uncle Bob.  I totally
dug "Tweedle Dee" because of what Elana's fiddle added, and
the band really got the snaky groove down, using hushed dynamics
while Uncle Bob accented one verse.  A straight-up "Just Like
Tom Thumb's Blues" contained a nice alt-country flavor, and Uncle
Bob carefully handled each verse; in fact, I believe he held
off on the final verse and let another solo fly because he
wasn't ready.  And he did go back to New York City and he
does believe he's had enough! "Moonlight" now has a bossa nova
feel to it, and while charming, I clearly prefer the old
jazz-swing flavor of the original arrangemnent.

"Highway 61 Revisted" gave the set plenty of rock, with its
recent arrangment from last year intact where Bo-Diddley
power chords accented two instrumental breaks.  Uncle Bob
then hurled two personal faves in a row:  A mournful and
subtly intense "Blind Willie McTell" and a bouncy "I
Don't Believe You", the former accented by Donnie's
clawhammer banjo.

While almost every Dylan setlist has contained "Honest With Me",
here was its third new rearrangement.  Actually, it's close to
the original, but in a different key.  Some nice rocking, although
perhaps this one could have been extended a bit.  Donnie and
Stu's twin slide leads had a nice full tone to them.

However, perhaps my favorite song of the night was the
more obscure "Saving Grace", not because of song selection, but
because this rendition was simply lovely.  The band's playing
restrained and tasteful, and Uncle Bob's phrasing added several
nuances, not to mention a sweet harp solo, where for the
second time he played harp center stage and clearly locked in
with the band.  And I got *that* feeling, as by the songs
end, tears welled in my eyes.

"Summer Days" also has a slightly new arrangement, but this one
flowed more than rocked, with some softer textures that produced
an elastic feeling.  Although I miss those *killer* versions from
the Larry Campbell-Charlie Sexton days, I appreciated the fact this
band is trying different things with the song instead of sheer
rocking out.

The crowd certainly dug the set, with two occasions of unified
clapping before Uncle Bob and the band returned.  It sure seemed
weird to see Uncle Bob cover a Merle tune without Merle present,
but he did justice to "Sing Me Back Home" with some neat, respectful
phrases:  I laughed warmly to the way he "sang a few old
gospel...SUH-ONGS"  And that old "Watchtower" warhorse  was
plenty of fun, with some nice hushed moments, solos that made
their points (Oh, Elana!) and Uncle Bob clearly present.

Maybe I'll go to a karioke bar wait, I'll go
to the Faux Fillmore again instead.;-)


Review by Marsha Baker

This show was excellent! Everything that John Wood said, I agree with
(except I don't want to marry Elana). Her presence on the stage is a
delightful addition and I hope she hangs around for quite a while. I
caught the show in Las Vegas a few days ago, so I had already witnessed
the new configuration of the band members, and this unit is just fine with
me. From my vantage point (just left of center stage about 2-3 rows back),
this was a night of powerful vocals and a stellar performance by all in my
opinion. I was captivated from beginning to end. Highway 61 was maybe the
best I've heard live, but for me also, the highlight of the evening was
Saving Grace-it was just so moving. Blind Willie McTell was a real treat
on this night also. It was just such a terrific show, I hope everyone
there enjoyed it as much as I did. Merle Haggard was a lot of fun to see,
and he sure looked like he was having a great time! Amos Lee was-well he
was Amos! He has such a great voice and a lot of charisma on stage. As I
said in my review of the LV show, I think he is definitely someone with a
bright future. All in all, a memorable night surrounded by a whole lot of
talent and experience, drawing the audience in from the get go, taking
them for a magic carpet ride and then delivering everyone back to earth
safely. Thanks Bob for all your effort to keep giving so much-I appreciate

Marsha Baker


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