Show Review: Mark Erelli at Club Passim, Cambridge, MA

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When I think of Boston, the first thing that comes to mind is not Americana and bluegrass.

In fact, it’s probably just about any other genre BUT bluegrass.

But these genres are alive and well in the venues of towns like Cambridge, Boston, and yes, even Somerville.

Case in point, the unexpected pleasure of a live show from Mark Erelli at Cambridge’s Club Passim.

On this pass, Erelli was performing songs written by New England legend Bill Morrissey. Erelli not only created a fitting tribute to this talent with his album Milltowns, he also made these gems his own.

Erelli opened with a sweet sad ballad, but went on to mix it up delightfully. Favorite cuts of the night were the short but crowd-pleasing “Morrissey Falls in Love at First Sight.” And the gorgeous, straightforward story-telling of the song “Birches.”

Opening and accompanying Erelli was another treasure of a musician, Charlie Rose. He performed several songs from his own new release, Stowaways. Rose confided that he was thrilled to be able to perform some of his own material, as he is known as an adroitly musical sideman to Erelli and many others.

Rose’s solo work was also superb, and it was fun to hear him mix it up with guitar and banjo. Erelli joined in supporting Rose. And then for the main act the roles were reversed. Rose added pedal steel. Erelli brought in mandolin and harmonica. By the end of the night there was a big smile on my face.

Of course, the centerpiece of the night was the songs, and Erelli’s superb and entertaining delivery of commentary complimented his masterful and thoughtful performance of each piece.

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After the show I asked Erelli about his gorgeous, vintage-looking guitar. He shared, “My ‘00-28ish’ guitar was made for me in 2007 by noted luthier TJ Thompson. The back and sides are koa and the top is a piece of spruce with bearclaw figuring in it that TJ got from the attic at the Martin factory. The wood dates back to the 40s but had never been used in a guitar before mine, so it's a new guitar with an old soul.” Ah, that explains it!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention bassist Richard Gates, who had spent some time playing live with Bill Morrissey, but who joined Erelli on stage for the first time that evening. He skillfully integrated into the evening, making the whole way more fabulous than the sum of its parts.

I’d highly recommend checking out both Erelli and Rose if they come your way. They are both impressive instrumental and vocal talents that know how to hold a room. Loved every minute of it.

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