For those who love the raw, rootsy sound of bluegrass, the ongoing series of concerts at Herndon's Holy Cross Lutheran Church is one of the great joys of living in this area. Tomorrow night, the venue will host a triumphant return of British favorites the Deep River Band, a dynamic quartet that maintains a stalwart presence at festivals and venues throughout Europe and the United States, as well as a long-term residency at the Heart of England, a large bluegrass club just outside Warwick Castle near Birmingham.
In England, the band has supported many visiting American acts. It first came across the pond in May 2001 for a tour that included shows at the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival and Madam's Organ in the District. That's also when the group recorded its debut CD, aptly titled "Virginia Sessions" (Bowman Records), with producer/mandolin player Jimmy Gaudreau, himself a veteran of many Holy Cross performances. The CD featured covers of Bill Monroe's "Gold Rush," Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone" and traditional instrumentals such as "Old Spinning Wheel" and "Cherokee Shuffle."
In May 2003, the group returned for another American jaunt, making its first appearance at Holy Cross and taking a second trip into the recording studio with Gaudreau. This new invasion of the colonies began earlier this month with a house concert in Takoma Park and has taken the band to Ohio and West Virginia as well as a number of Virginia dates.
And yes, Gaudreau is again coordinating concerts and planning studio time for a new CD while the band is here.
While Gerry Williams (guitar and vocals) and Gina Richardson (fiddle and vocals) were part of the Deep River Band for the 2003 dates, two new members will be on board for this tour -- Howard Burton (banjo) and Nye Davies (bass). Each of the members brings personal history, technical skill and a contagious love of the music to the whole.
Williams first picked up the guitar when he was 12 and played skiffle, a form of early British pop, at sea as a member of the Royal Navy. In 1962 he turned to bluegrass, playing with the Orange Blossom Sound before founding the Deep River Band. His cited influences include the Stanley Brothers, Hank Williams and the Blue Sky Boys. Burton started playing bluegrass in 1987 and has played with the East Coast Bluegrass Band, the Anglian Bluegrass Boys and the Rocky Island Boys. Davies, a native of Wales, sometimes moonlights from the Deep River Band as a member of the Biggin Hill Billies.
Richardson started playing at the tender age of 8, with formal training in early music, and now teaches violin in English schools to students as young as 7. She moved to the bluegrass scene in 1999, taking her influences from early bluegrass fiddlers such as Benny Sims and Curly Ray Cline.
A lean, dramatic figure onstage, Richardson mixes her sultry baritone with Williams's tenor to great effect.
Though the term "hard-core bluegrass" might seem an oxymoron, that's what the Deep River Band has to offer. You'll tap your feet, but you won't bang your head.
-- MARIANNE MEYER
Holy Cross Lutheran Church is at 1090 Sterling Rd. Tickets are $12. For more information, call 703-435-8377 or 703-437-1883, or go to www.holycrosslutheranchurch.net/News.htm.
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