An Upbeat Night of Old-Timey Music

May 14th, 2012

The Dirt Daubers/Spirit Family Reunion – Mercury Lounge – May 12, 2012

If I’m using the word correctly, what went down Saturday night at Mercury Lounge was, in fact, a hootenanny complete with banjos, washboards, kazoos, group singing and more than enough fun to go around for everyone. First up, Brooklyn’s Spirit Family Reunion, a sextet with stripped-down instrumentation and plain white undershirts to match. They were a blast from a bygone era, putting the (good) time in old-timey music. Despite the songs’ austere nature, with a bountiful mix of bluegrass, gospel, jug band and the like, the infectious energy was high. It’s rare to witness a spontaneous, overwhelming response in the middle of a set that’s unassociated with any expectations but is instead just a swelling of love from the audience. But Spirit Family Reunion got such a roar and deservedly so.

The Dirt Daubers, from Kentucky, the birthplace of bluegrass, followed. Although their roots and style are similar to the opener’s—with banjo, mandolin, bass and harmonica—the trio’s look and sound are slightly more polished (plus there were some corny Cracker Barrel jokes). But where Spirit Family Reunion pushed the uplifting side of the music, the Daubers, like their name, were darker, not only playing a murder ballad but announcing it to warn you. When they threw in some harmonica, the sound firmed up, like on “Cindy.” An up-tempo version of Elvis Presley’s “Just Because” was another highlight. At one point the lead singer had one hand on a harmonica and the other on a washboard, impressively playing both at high speed to impressive results.

If the contrast between the two groups wasn’t obvious enough, while Spirit Family Reunion closed with an arena-sized version of the optimistic “I’ll Find a Way,” the Dirt Daubers finished with the more ominously titled “Devil Gets His Due.” Still the Daubers, due a gospel number, encored with a wonderful sing-along rendition of the classic “I’ll Fly Away,” but not before explaining that singing a gospel number gave you the liberty to have a night of bad behavior to balance out things. And on that note, the crowd helped close out the veritable hootenanny with the loudest singing of the night. —A. Stein