may 2008

Dave Evans & River Bend
Rebel Records

Dave Evans fully inhabits every song he sings, almost to a frightening point. He burrows so deep into sad songs that they threaten to collapse in on themselves, like musical black holes. But unlike the black holes in our galaxy, plenty of energy escapes from these musical counterparts, thanks to the ineluctable power of Evans’s deeply committed readings. He simply will not deny his listeners a chance to experience the full range of life described in the turmoil and exultation of his narratives, whether it’s the sorrow of a mother’s death (the desultory “Sweeter Than The Flowers,” with Jim Rigsby’s raspy, “oh no!” tenor vocal on the chorus adding a double wallop to the unfolding tragedy), the inescapable horror of the violent deed that’s landed him behind bars for a lifetime (“99 Years Is Almost a Life”), or the buoyant, unbridled certainty of better days ahead (as celebrated in a breakneck treatment of A.P. Carter’s “Sun’s Gonna Shine In My Back Door Someday”).

Having acquired the tapes of Evans’s first two albums, released in 1979 and 1980 on the long-defunct Cincinnati-based Vetco label, Rebel has repackaged a sampling of 15 cuts from those essential long players into one powerful single disc survey. Though he’s accompanied great singers as a member of Larry Sparks’s band and the Boys from Indiana (among others), Evans’s muscular, expressive baritone betrays a bit of Lefty Frizzell influence but is otherwise as original an instrument as bluegrass has ever produced. If Enrico Caruso had ever sung bluegrass, he would have wanted to be Dave Evans, investing each song with such intense, raw feeling as to mask the virtuosity informing his technique. But he doesn’t do it by himself. His River Bend band—the basic lineup at this time was Evans on banjo (who speeds picks a positively jaw dropping solo on “White House Blues”), Mike Hamilton on guitar, Danny Cady on fiddle and Art Wydner on bass—is more than up to the task of helping him put the hurt on; Cady, especially, stands out with his fiddle support, which is electrifying whether he’s adding mournful strains to a touching recitation honoring the singer’s dead parents (“Call Me On Home, Too”) or absolutely burning up the track when he steps out of “Carry Me Back To the Bluegrass” for a furious retort to Evans’s hard driving banjo lines. Dave Evans has a lot more powerful music left in him, but as he moves forward it’s always instructive to be reminded of how far he’s traveled in finding his singular voice. The Best Of the Vetco Years is an indispensable component of this vital history.—David McGee


Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024