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Great preview in the Fredericksburg Freelance Star about Larry Keel and Natural Bridge’s upcoming show at the Otterhouse this Saturday, September 11th.

FLAT-PICKERS WITH LOCAL ROOTS REMAIN AT THE FOREFRONT OF PROGRESSIVE BLUEGRASS

Keel’s local bluegrass roots branch out in many directions

Date published: 9/9/2010

BY RYAN GREEN

FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Most area residents are aware of the numerous national claims to fame our local bluegrass musicians have made. Yet, some may be unaware that perhaps the most prolific and progressive flat-picker performing today spent many nights picking away in and around Fredericksburg.

Photo by Bright Life Photography

For the versed and unversed alike, on Saturday night Larry Keel and his band, Natural Bridge, will rock The Otter House and demonstrate why his act is consistently touted as the hottest, most provocative and most entertaining bluegrass band of this decade.

Growing up in Warrenton, Keel frequently played the open-mic nights at the Irish Brigade (located in the same spot that The Otter House now calls home). As he made connections with other local musicians, he spearheaded a healthy progressive-bluegrass scene in the Fredericksburg area with his band Magraw Gap and later the Larry Keel Experience.

Becoming increasingly more renowned for his flat-picking virtuosity, Keel claimed several first-place prizes during the mid-’90s at Telluride competitions, which for all intents and purposes are the World Cup of bluegrass.

In 2005, Keel formed his much lauded band Natural Bridge with his wife, Jenny Keel, on string bass and Mark Schimick on mandolin. Their latest release, “Backwoods” (2009) is a course in the direction the Keels are leading the bluegrass scene, which is to say they are taking the scene somewhere new. It is a must listen for anyone claiming to be tuned to the motions of country/bluegrass music. Within, you find the complexity and virtuosic instrumentation of traditional bluegrass in the vein of Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs–but the comparisons need not go much further.

In a recent phone interview, Jenny Keel remarked on the band’s determination to go beyond traditional bluegrass.

“We put a lot of energy into honoring the forefathers of bluegrass. They were the original alternative music makers of their time,” said Jenny Keel. “But bluegrass has to grow, it has to evolve. None of the greats in the last three generations have stayed true to the Monroe-Scruggs way.”

Indeed, the Keels’ original tunes stand alone in a genre driven by the cover. The melodies, grounded by Larry Keel’s uniquely deep timbre, are backed in places by overhanging Tom Petty- esque harmonies and the pulse of Jenny Keel’s quiet-yet-strong bass playing. Meanwhile, both Larry Keel and Schimick set the standard for virtuosic picking throughout by melding classic bluegrass runs with elements of rock, gypsy jazz and the blues. In the end, progressive bluegrass may be an understatement, but it is clear that what the Keels are doing is progress.

The Keels also recently released their equally acclaimed second album as Keller and the Keels–a collaboration with hometown hero Keller Williams–titled “Thief.” This genre-bending album is a collection of covers (e.g., Amy Winehouse, Marcy Playground) that existed beyond the canon of bluegrass before Williams rearranged and captured them with the able hands of the Keels behind him. This album’s astounding success is an indication of how the branches of bluegrass are outgrowing its roots in our mountainous landscape and becoming, in some ways, a form of pop music.

While some traditionalists fear these changes, the Keels fully support them. For the most part, it is through this growth that the youth of today are learning about the wonderful music our area has produced for hundreds of years.

Larry’s attitude (in the words of Jenny Keel) is, “If I’m out there doing my thing and I throw in a Bob Marley tune, then I’ve got them listening. Then I lay on a full-on mountain song, like a Ralph Stanley song. Then I’ve got them to listen to Ralph Stanley when they might never have heard it.”

For this Saturday’s show, fans should arrive, as cliched as it is to say, expecting the unexpected.

“Larry grew up with a bunch of pickers, and there is likely to be some crazy hijinks beyond our Natural Bridge format,” said Jenny Keel.

Rumors have it that Will Lee (son of Ricky Lee, the Ralph Stanley-backing legend) and Gary Keel, Larry’s brother, will be in attendance, and likely onstage.

To be sure, the same creativity and cohesion that drive the constant evolution of this band will be present. Count in the virtuosic musicians and the feel-good atmosphere of the Otter House and this show becomes a bargain too sweet to pass up.

Ryan Green is a freelance writer and musician in Richmond. Reach him at
Email: ryugreen@yahoo.com.

Read original ==>> Fredericksburg.com – >> FLAT-PICKERS WITH LOCAL ROOTS REMAIN AT THE FOREFRONT OF PROGRESSIVE BLUEGRASS – page 2 FLS http://fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2010/092010/09092010/573655/index_html?page=2#ixzz0z3SFWhbw

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