Preservation Hall Jazz Band & The Del McCoury Band
McCoury Music and Preservation Hall Recordings
2.5 stars (out of 5)
By Aaron Keith Harris
Gerald Early famously said in Ken Burns’ 1993 Baseball documentary that “the Constitution, jazz music and baseball” are what America will be known for two thousand years from now. All three have roots in the Old World, but are uniquely American because of the innovations Americans added to old ingredients. Bluegrass music is often overlooked as a unique American contribution to world music, mostly because it has not influenced culture as much as jazz, but it is perhaps even more purely American than its more popular cousin.
The bands collaborating on this recording are standard-bearers in their genres, with the McCoury’s outfit having brought more innovation to theirs than the Pres Hall band, which keeps the torch burning for traditional jazz. Both are exciting to see live, where the joy they bring to their craft is immediately palpable, but their recorded effort sounds more like a staid compromise than a synthesis of two vibrant styles.
“The Band’s in Town” kicks off the disc with plenty of promise, with Del McCoury and Pres Hall’s Clint Maedgen trading vocals and introducing great players like Ronnie McCoury (mandolin) and Jason Carter (fiddle) from the bluegrass side and jazzer Charlie Gabriel (clarinet). Gabriel’s clarinet, Mark Braud’s muted trumpet and Del’s matchless voice combine to make “One Has My Name” a diverting breeze and one of the best tracks here. Del also shines on “Jambalaya” and “You Don’t Have to Be a Baby to Cry,” one of the very few times that Rob McCoury’s impeccable banjo is allowed to speak up.
Maedgen, Gabriel and Braud share the vocal duties from the Pres Hall side, but, like all mortals, they just don’t stack up to Del. On the instrumental side, the Pres Hall band dominates, both on solos and they tempo and feel of each track. It’s all trad jazz with the McCoury band pitching in here and there. Nowhere is Pres Hall tested by a hard-driving bluegrass beat, even on “Banjo Frisco,” an instrumental for banjo written by Del or “Milenberg Joys,” a jazz tune that bluegrass founder Bill Monroe converted into a mandolin showpiece.
It might have been a better idea to just record Del singing with Pres Hall while the rest of the boys were out as the Travelin’ McCourys. The result instead is like a beignet from Cafe Du Monde with no sugar sprinkled on it.