Sunday 6th May – Reviewed by Geoff Anders
Johnny Possums Good Time Hootin’ Band. What a name. Someone obviously has a sense of humour. Finding a good name for a new band isn’t always easy so is sometimes rushed and regretted. This one works well, being very country/bluegrass, yet with an antipodean Kiwi / Dame Edna touch. And there were plenty of possums on seats to listen up. Listen up they did, joining in choruses from the handout songsheet, stymied only by the lights being down making it hard to read.
I’d seen the group at one of their earliest gigs with a slightly different lineup and without Vicky on the fiddle. It was nice to see how much they’d improved with the changes and playing time. All songs were tight and done well with confidence, energy and spirit. Vocal harmonies played a part in many numbers and instrumental leads were swapped between banjo, guitars and fiddle.
Their lineup is Sean on banjo, Keith on guitar, Bryzy mandolin or guitar, Vicky fiddle and Jonathan on bass. The mandolin took center stage in typical choppy bluegrass style and took rhythmic lead breaks at times.
Jonathan’s upright bass had sound problems from the start with a boomy string or frequency limiting volume so that much of his playing was hard to hear. Sean’s banjo was integral to the sound, playing driving rhythm or sparkly lead breaks, some well up the neck.
Keith kept the rhythm together and took some nice, though not always loud enough leads. He and Bryzy traded guitar lead runs on some of the tunes. Vocals were shared around with 3-part harmony on many.
The material included many well known songs. There was a good bunch from the “Oh Brother Where Art Thou & Down From The Mountain” movie and concert, such as “I am Weary”, “Man of Lonesome Sorrow”, “I’ll Fly Away”, “Wagon Wheel” and “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep”. All are tunes that lend themselves to nice harmonies which the band exploited well and the audience joined in. Some thought apparent in the arrangements with tunes and lead vocals being shared around. Jonathan did a bass solo on “Oh Mary” while Vicky handled the vocal with pensive feel. “I’ll Fly Away” included a strong choral mandolin break from Bryzy and ended acapella style. Nice.
Other songs rolled along with panache – “Crawded Hole”, “Foggy Mountain Top”, “Cocaine Habit”, “Shack No 9”, “Linin’ Track”, “Hard to Love”, “Burned Down The Liquor Store”, “You Get a Line” & “Go To Sleep Little Baby”.
“Foggy” featured a keen banjo break and some country fiddling. “Go To Sleep” as acapella and lovely. “Blue Moon of Kentucky” began slow and gentle then quickly zapped up tempo. It was done to an uncommon tune that gave the song a quite different feel. Vocal and chats were clear, some band banter showed they were comfortable and confident with each other and on stage. The audience had a good time and called strongly for encores. These were delivered and ended with a driving rendition of “Jackson County”.
Simon’s mellifluous voice MC’d the evening and Jeremy drove the sound desk.