Wednesday, November 25, 2009
MoJo and Nedski in Brattleboro, VT
Stephen Mougin and Ned Luberecki
Stephen Mougin and Ned Luberecki continued their two man tour at the New England Youth Theater on Saturday night to a solid and appreciative audience. This mini-tour by the two highly thought of Nashville sidemen is important for two reasons. First, it gives these two fine musicians a higher profile and introduces audiences to artistry musicians can't necessarily showcase while playing in someone else's band. Second, their tour, taking place as house concerts and in relatively small, our-of-the-way venues, suggests an alternative income source for musicians, particularly during the hiatus period of large touring bands. Their show was an artistic and personal success for both men. The Stockwell Brothers opened for them.
The Stockwell Brothers
The evening's event was opened by the Stockwell Brothers from nearby Putney, VT. The Stockwell's have been a part of the southern Vermont and broader New England bluegrass music scene for nearly 40 years, ever since emerging as teens from their Dad's tutelage. Barry, singing lead and playing rhythm guitar has a pleasant voice and a quiet, restrained Yankee personality as spokesman for the group. Brother Al on bass and mandolin helps fill the band's sound and adds versatility. His long, expressive fingers on the bass are worth more than a second glance. The real surprise, at least for people who've never seen or heard him pick, is brother Bruce on banjo. A retiring, almost reclusive, and deeply shy person, Bruce brings a level of versatility and vision to the banjo seldom seen at festivals or on stages, especially by those who insist on getting their bluegrass straight and traditional. While he is a great proponent of Scruggs and Crowe style bluegrass picking, his inventive stylings in songs ranging from Salsa to sixties folk, through jazz are outstanding. Sometimes he even seems to surprise himself as his fingers find new sounds that many have never heard from a banjo. Bruce Stockwell deserves much broader attention from the banjo playing world. Performing in a small, intimate venue where the audience was really listening to them benefited their performance enormously. No wonder many performers prefer theaters and auditoriums to festivals and bars!
Mojo and Nedski
Ned Luberecki and Stephen Mougin present a marvelous contrast in almost every way...and the combination works! Nedski is best known as a voice on Sirius/XM radio's Bluegrass Junction where he does daily stints spinning (What an odd word in these days where practically nothing spins. Does anyone have a good word for presenting 0s and 1s on the radio?) an always interesting mix of bluegrass as well as offering his cogent observations and notes from his broad experience. On Saturday nights he hosts a program called “Derailed” on which he plays a mix of progressive and newgrass music that can't be equaled during the rest of the Junction's week. On Sunday afternoons he teaches a weekly on-the-air banjo lesson, which has developed a rabid audience. In the banjo world, he is recognized as an innovative creative force who brings a wickedly inventive sense of humor and playfulness to his play. His song “Cabin of Death” is a hilarious presentation of the “perfect bluegrass song.” Other songs from Ned included the Byrd's “Hey Mr. Spaceman,” and his own “Nedscape Blues.”He is also widely recognized as a banjo stylist, perhaps best and most recently as second banjo on Tony Trischka's Double Banjo Spectacular tour and with Chris Jones and the Night Drivers in both the U.S. And Europe.
Stephen Mougin (known far and wide simply as MoJo) plays guitar with the Sam Bush band, providing exceptional rhythm guitar, hot, fast flatpicking solos, and always solid harmony vocals. He has had experience playing for Valerie Smith, Melonie Cannon, Jim Lauderdale, and Randy Kohrs. His excellent song writing and fine solo voice are almost unknown. Both deserve wider dissemination. Rich Mougin, his father, told me MoJo first picked up a mandolin when he was four, imitating his father on guitar. His skills improved rapidly and he began competing in contests. It wasn't until he was in middle school that his teachers discovered he had accomplished all he had by ear without ever learning to read music, an oversight that was quickly remedied. Stephen, who doubles effectively on guitar and mandolin, plays a very hot flat picking guitar (He's on the cover of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine this month) as well as excellent mandolin. His lead singing and harmony are both very effective. He has recently produced a pair of CD's featuring Russell Moore and Ronnie Bowman on the essentials of harmony singing. As a songwriter, often as co-writer with Jenee Fleenor, his songs are warm and heartfelt, reaching into the listener's core. Two songs of his presented at the performance celebrated a fellow teacher named Jenny who had choreographed the musicals Stephen directed as a public school teacher (Jenny Danced) and the grandmother, whom he had never met (Fedora's Hands), both deeply affecting numbers. In each song, his emotions were clearly very near the surface, and his honesty touched his audience deeply.
Mojo and Nedski
Together, the duo plays off each others' strengths, presenting a varied performance of vocals and instrumentals as well as very pleasant interplay between their contrasting personalities. Their voices complemented each other well, and their musicianship was at the highest level of professionalism. Their tour, sponsored by Fishman Electronics and featuring the sound of the very effective SA 220 Solo Performance System, provides a delightful interlude during this slow musical season. They will be embarking on a western swing in December. Watch this space for more information soon.