The Mark Lavengood Bluegrass Bonanza!
New bluegrass combinations
From the October, 2016 issue
Mark Lavengood, born in Grand Rapids, is an ebullient man who dispenses hugs freely--his bandmates call him Huggy Bear. The exclamation point that accompanies his band's name seems essential once you've heard him live, and he matches the enthusiasm with performances of precision and intensity on a bevy of acoustic instruments: guitar, pedal steel, ukulele, and above all the thorny Dobro resonator guitar. To top it off, he's formed a crack band, and he's beginning to build a catalog of original songs that make use of his own and his bandmates' virtuoso talents.
Lavengood first came to the attention of Michigan acoustic music fans for the blistering solos he contributed to the songs of Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys, the Lansing-gone-national ensemble that held forth every Tuesday night for a couple of years at the Wolverine State Brewing Co. on Stadium. He still performs with Lindsay Lou, but like her, he just might break out beyond Michigan. His voice is not yet honed to as sharp an edge as his playing, but that should evolve.
Lavengood's earlier albums often traded in novelties and humor, but the material out so far from his newest, We've Come Along, shows a more sustained attempt to integrate original songwriting with the band's instrumental skills. "Three Day Blow" is an ambitious six-minute expansion of Hemingway's meteorological metaphor into a description of a relationship disintegrating under the weight of substance abuse. Lavengood has learned from Lindsay Lou's original songwriting but has a voice of his own.
Combine all this with some very fine traditional bluegrass playing, and you have something to make you take notice. The youthful players who have accomplished the striking reinvigoration of bluegrass in Michigan have always respected the historical core of the music, and Lavengood is no exception. The Dobro is not part of the classic bluegrass ensemble, but it's had some fabulous bluegrass players down through the years, and Lavengood has clearly absorbed the lessons of Rob Ickes and Jerry
Douglas, as well as those of Joe Wilson, Drew Howard, and other players from the first Michigan bluegrass wave. He understands the effect the profound twang the instrument can produce, and he reaches back to the critical role it has played in linking country and blues over its more-than-eighty-year existence.
It adds up to a form of bluegrass that allows for considerable brilliance and is still widening its expressive scope. Mark Lavengood's Bluegrass Bonaza! performs on October 7 at a venue to be announced at marklavengood.com. and October 15 at Chelsea Alehouse (See Nightspots)
. You can also catch him with Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys at the Ark on Sunday, October 23.
[Originally published in October, 2016.]
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