(28 April 2015) STATE COLLEGE, PA — First of all, all I’m going to do here is gush. Second, I’m going to call them a bluegrass band, even though they do other things. I’m going to call them that because if somebody asked me, “What do they sound like” I’d say, “Like a grittier Union Station,” and that there’s a bluegrass band, more or less. Whatever you call them, Tyne and The Fastlyne are one of central Pennsylvania’s best bands, and could go banjo-to-banjo with anybody anywhere.
Tyne Palazzi sings and plays banjo at such a high level that it’s breathtaking to hear her. The musician sitting next to me had never heard her before and was completely enraptured the whole time. “I didn’t expect this,” he said. Palazzi’s banjo playing is effortless. Even when she’s playing the most complicated figures or soloing way up in the teensy frets, she looks like it’s the easiest thing in the world. And her voice. Sweet lord, her voice. I know this is a facile comparison, but when I walked in they were playing Mick Ralphs’ “Oh, Atlanta,” which for me will always be an Alison Krauss song (watch), and Tyne nailed it. There are very few singers whom I can compare favorably to Krauss, but Tyne Palazzi makes that list.
Bill “Wiggus” Wilgus shreds on mandolin and guitar. He’s a complete joy to listen to because he employs his impressive chops in the service of the music, never as a means of grabbing attention. And when he and Palazzi are playing lines in unison or trading solos, it’s a thing of beauty. He also adds harmony vocals (as do drummer Kevin Lowe and bassist John Kennedy), something every bluegrass outfit needs.
Lowe and Kennedy are rock solid. Music like this absolutely depends on strong rhythm. The relationship of the bass and drums to the rest of the band is more complex than you might think, though. In the best bluegrass music, the banjo and other stringed instruments are also carrying a lot of the rhythmic load, so the rhythm section needs to be solid but sensitive. Kennedy and Lowe fit this bill perfectly. Kennedy even stepped to the front to sing a song while I was there: Johnny Cash’s relationship tale “Mean Eyed Cat.”
This band just happens to be based in central PA. If you walked in on them in a club anywhere in the U.S., you’d think you’d walked in on a very special night. And you’d be right.
Tonight I performed for the first time as a paid stand-up comedian. When I got home from the gig, I decided to start a new podcast so you can follow along as I try my hand at making people laugh. Here’s the first episode.