Monday, November 23, 2015

BR5-49 – LIVE IN CONCERT

BR5-49 – LIVE IN CONCERT
Bear Family Records Release CD and DVD Versions

BR5-49 was one of the catalysts of the mid to late 90’s neo-traditionalist moment and, says founding member Chuck Mead, “at the top of our game” when touring in 1996. One of their high-rating performances is now captured on CD and DVD, thanks to Bear Family Records.


BR5-49 ONE LONG SATURDAY NIGHT (DVD) (Bear Family BVD 20140)
Recorded live for ‘Ohne Filter’, Baden-Baden, Germany (October 14, 1996)
Dancing with My Shadow; Even If It’s Wrong; Long Gone Lonesome Blues; Heartaches By The Number; Bettie Bettie; Right Or Wrong; Hometown Boogie; Honky Tonk Song; Go Boy Go; Lonesome 7-7203; My Name Is Mudd; I Ain’t Never; Little Ramona (Gone Hillbilly Nuts); Big Mouth Blues; Cherokee Boogie; Ole Slewfoot; Crazy Arms; Gone, Gone, Gone; One Long Saturday Night; Take Me Back To Tulsa.

BR5-49 ONE LONG SATURDAY NIGHT, PLUS (cd) (Bear Family BCD 17347)
Recorded live for ‘Ohne Filter’, Baden-Baden, Germany (October 14, 1996)
Even If It’s Wrong; Long Gone Lonesome Blues; Heartaches By The Number; Bettie Bettie; Right Or Wrong; Hometown Boogie; Honky Tonk Song; Go Boy Go; Lonesome 7-7203; My Name Is Mudd; I Ain’t Never; Little Ramona (Gone Hillbilly Nuts); Big Mouth Blues; Cherokee Boogie; Ole Slewfoot; Crazy Arms; Gone, Gone, Gone; One Long Saturday Night; Take Me Back To Tulsa.
Bonus Tracks: Recorded live in Kumamoto, Japan (1996): Hillbilly Thang; Settin’ The Woods On Fire; Knoxville Girl; Sweet Georgia Brown.


When they emerged on the scene in the mid 1990s, BR5-49 were like a breath of fresh air amidst the country-pop-rock recordings that were developing out of Nashville. The music was changing and beginning to lose its identity and here, suddenly, was a five man band keeping up tradition. Better still, they had a major record deal (Arista) and ready to bring their music to a world outside of Robert’s, the western wear store on Nashville’s Lower Broadway where the buzz and wild audience appreciation had first started.

The public loved BR5-49 but their traditional sound was most likely why they ran foul of the industry and radio whose ears were now listening to the new sound of country. Sadly the group only managed to muster three modest hits  - Cherokee Boogie, Even If It’s Wrong and Little Ramona (Gone Hillbilly Nuts) - in the Billboard Country Charts and then their hit making days were over. Nevertheless the public loved them, the word spread internationally and the group extended concert appearances to beyond US borders.

Founded by Chuck Mead and Gary Bennett (both guitars and vocals), then joined  by Smilin’ Jay McDowell (upright bass), Don Herron (steel guitar, fiddle, mandolin, dobro) and Shaw Wilson (drums, vocals), this was the band that had begun life at Robert’s - and tried to bring the spirit of Roberts to whatever stage they were playing, whether a club venue or a festival – and here, back to October 14, 1996, a German tv studio with a café type audience. “It was a time”, says Mead, “that the band was at the top of our game”. Now’s the chance to see and hear them on new releases from Bear Family Records.

The song programme lived up to BR5-49’s usual format of “playing whatever we thought of to play, a mixture of old country, rockabilly and original material, all off the top of our heads”,  on this occasion classic songs like Hank WilliamsLong Gone Lonesome Blues alongside Harlan Howard’s Heartaches by The Number, Webb Pierce’s I Ain’t Never and Carl PerkinsGone, Gone, Gone as well as a couple from the Bob Wills’ western swing catalogue, Right Or Wrong and Take Me Back To Tulsa. Plus a few originals, including Bennett’s opener Even If It’s Wrong and Mead’s uptempo twosome Bettie Bettie and Little Ramona (Gone Hillbilly Nuts).

With Mead heading up the vocals, occasionally taken over by Bennett, the band add perfect, never overplayed back-up with superlative steel guitar and fiddle breaks from Herron, often straight on the heels of each other. As if time-warped from a earlier decade, the sound is well captured on disc while, on DVD, there’s the bonus of watching the easeful, natural manner in which the musicians go through their paces.

There’s also insightful notes in the sets’ accompanying booklets. Chuck Mead, in the cd notes, recalls the Robert’s sojourn and the night that the group broke through to the audience like a tent revival meeting and DVD writer Smilin’ Jay McDowell tells how the band came into existence. “BR5-49 was a crazy dream. If you wrote a movie script with this story, nobody would believe it”.

In addition to the German performance on the cd, there’s also an additional four tracks recorded shortly afterwards in Kumamoto, Japan, once again showing the band’s diversity moving from the poignant Knoxville Girl to the swing classic Sweet Georgia Brown, the Hank Williams hit Settin’ The Woods On Fire and a Gary Bennett original Hillbilly Thang.

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