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Published: 2002/04/22
by Ray Hogan

self-titled – Larry Keel and Curtis Burch and the Experience


Thanks to the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the
craze surrounding it, bluegrass is finally getting the recognition the music
deserves. Hopefully, listeners are looking beyond the soundtrack and
discovering the wealth of talented musicians the genre boasts.
What was once seen as backporch hillbilly music has gained a new and
warranted respectability thanks to the Coen brothers' film.

The Larry Keel Experience would be an excellent start. Keel, a flat pick
guitarist, is a modern traditionalist who teams up with dobro player Curtis
Burch (of New Grass Revival) to create a disc that is both musically and
emotionally fulfilling. Keel and company have created music that is
accessible and spirited and still technically challenging. The interplay
between Keel and Burch is tremendous and would be enough to make this
a success. Add a largely stellar collection of tunes and it's nearly

Keel was raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and brings an authenticity to the music that many younger bands lack. At the behest of the late Mark Vann (Leftover Salmon) he began showing up at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and winning its guitar competition. Ten of the disc's 14 tracks are covers and Keel has mined a great collection. The late John Hartford's "First Girl I Ever Loved" is hauntingly beautiful. The traditional "Little Liza Jane" gets the raucous treatment the tune calls for. Keel is an impressive writer as well. His tunes (especially "Three Kings") sit with the tried-and-true cover material. The Experience also finds a nice balance between the picking frenzy rave-ups and slower, introspective tunes. For example, the tension of the lighting fast precision of "Black Ridge Ramble" is offset by the slowly paced emotional weight of "First Girl I Ever Loved," possibly the stellar disc's greatest moment. Vocals are split between Keel, his bass playing wife Jenny, and Burch. Larry Keel's voice is appropriately gruff and smoky. Jenny Keel's style fits the Western swing tunes like a kid glove. Burch's yearning howl could be more fully utilized judging from the results of the opening "In the Plan". Keel and Burch are great collaborators. Let's hope they take to the road together.

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