Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys, Rhythm Room, 8/29/12

Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys @ Rhythm Room| 8/29/12
Sometimes, different is good. After a long, steady musical diet of mostly rock, jazz, blues and Cuban music, I let my country side out for an evening with Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys. Though, in all honesty, it was pretty rocking country--a two-steppin' blend of traditional country, Western swing, revved up rockabilly and the occasional Latin flare.

Big Sandy--and he is a big guy, but all together affable--and his band are something of the missing link between classic country and rockabilly; pulling together the '40s to the '60s. Their sound encompasses everything from Hank Williams to Buck Owens, Buddy Holly to Elvis, Roy Orbison to Duane Eddy, and Gene Vincent to Link Wray. It's quite a mix, but one that doesn't feel forced or stolen. The band is truly passionate about what they do.

Throughout the two-set, two-hour Rhythm Room concert, Big Sandy (real name Robert Williams) crooned, shouted, raved and sung though the maze of styles, as his tight band--Jeff West on upright bass, drummer Bobby Trimble and lead guitarist Ashley Kingman--punctuated the songs with distinctive force or deft touch. Kingman was right-on all night, cutting blistering leads one moment, gently brushing the strings for a heavenly effect the next, while Trimble powerfully slapped his cymbals or slipped the mini solo into the mix. West, who provided backup vocals, held the bottom end in check and sang lead on one song, while Big Sandy on acoustic guitar smoothly guided the rhythm.

Then it occurred to me about four songs into the show, during "Blackberry Wine," that, while not exactly Jimi Hendrix, Kingman could really cut it up, albeit, with a healthy twang. My notion of most country players was shot. Happily, I might add, as a dose of controlled feedback eased out of the speakers--and it wasn't even a full-tilt rockabilly song.

The whole night went this way, with unexpected pleasures such as spicy Latin-tinged numbers like "Spanish Dagger" and "Tequila Calling," or Big Sandy crooning '50s-style like some teen idol. The band, which began in the late-1980s during the California roots revival movement, worked plenty of new material from Turntable Matinee, their latest album, into the career-encompassing set. New tracks include a raucous "Love That Man," stinging "Mad" and the lamentable "You Don't Know Me At All."

The group also churned out a pair of new songs offered--for now it seems--only on a 45 rpm record being sold during the break: "My Eyes Are Open but There's Nobody Home," and "Girl at the Bar"--both swinging numbers with nice lead guitar sections.

With swing dancers filling the floor and women bringing Big Sandy drinks--and despite only about 60 people in attendance--the evening was a blast, a well-performed and well-received throwback to another musical era. It's one era this reviewer just might have to add to the regular diet.

Personal bias: Country music, especially traditional, is always inviting.

The crowd: Small, but lively, with women done to the nines in '50s-era clothing and men in cowboy shirts.

Random notebook dump: Between the lyrics and the chord progressions it's easy to make the connection between country music and the blues.

Overheard: "Let's do it all night long." To which, Big Sandy replied: "All night long. I like the sound of that. I don't know what that's about...but if it's all night long, I'm all for it."

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