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Published: 2013/01/22
by Nancy Dunham

Jamie McLean Band, Hill Country Revue, Washington, D.C. – 1/5

“The goal right now is to have it very mixed up,” said Jamie McLean just a few hours before he and the band that sports his name took the stage at Hill Country Revue in Washington, D.C.

Although McLean was talking about upcoming music releases— mixing up live stuff, studio stuff, videos and even tour diaries – the line was a perfect summation of the audience at this wanna-be kindred spirit to Nashville’s legendary Station Inn. No matter the diverse mix — 20-somethings in ultra mini skirts and impossibly high heels competed for floor space with t-shirt wearing middle aged moms and ball cap wearing urban cowboys — McLean and his band mates played as if they were the Grateful Dead and all were kindred spirits.

“How you all doing tonight?,” McLean asked the crowd almost immediately before launching into a blazing rendition of his song “Holy” followed closely by an equally hot rendition of ‘Don’t Change.’ Suffice to say that after those songs, the answer to McLean’s question was clearly “fired up.” Although the crowd was relatively tame, McLean’s hot riffs and licks accompanied by the equally robust playing of bassist Ben Mars and drummer Brian Griffin amped up the crowd’s animation.

It’s easy to see why McLean is such a well-known guitarist whose gigs included membership in New Orleans’ famed Dirty Dozen Brass Band. What’s not so clear is why McLean isn’t in the guitar gods’ category and his band isn’t signed to a major label.

McLean brushes aside those questions, talking about his need to play his own music, form his own band, and take his own road in music.

“Now we have fans literally from age 6 to 60,” he said in his pre-show chat. “My career was really formed from the jam band scene — Widespread Panic and the Black Crowes. Those fans are younger,” he said. “Then we dug into the Blues element, like with Johnny Winter and those guys, and their fans really got into it, too.”

It was interesting to watch the Hill Country fans tune in as McLean spoke from the stage about the band’s musical liaisons with everyone from “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks to Blues God Winter and beyond. McLean is no namedropper — though his friendships and collaborations with everyone from the Allman Brothers to Joan Armatrading and the North Mississippi Allstars give him plenty of fodder — but he was quick to pay thanks for the good times he had jamming with others.

His words between songs were especially poignant because McLean was fairly self-contained while on stage, preferring to speak through his music.

And the songs in the set were as format busting as the credentials of his musical friends ranging from the soft rock-pop “Checkmate,” to the rock ballad “Ain’t Nobody Like My Baby,” to the throbbing, up-tempo blues rocker “I Been Low.”

Album reviews always note the masterful instrumentation of the trio. As trite as it sounds, you can’t truly appreciate how powerful, yet elegant, the playing is until you watch the axe-wielding McLean and Mars jump around the stage with Griffin’s drums in hot pursuit. It’s not that Griffin goes off on his own Keith-Moon-Behind-the-Kit playing, but he more than keeps pace with the roar of the guitars — no easy task behind powerhouse players like McLean and Mars.

Talking to McLean, it’s clear that groove is what keeps him satisfied that he swapped gigs at Madison Square Garden with the Dirty Dozen to the more down-low clubs such as Hill Country where he fronts his own band.

“I try not to think about who they are,” said McLean when asked to pinpoint how he draws fans. “I am just thankful they are there and enjoying it, that we get to share in the night together. That keeps me feeling very lucky.”

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