Mike Compton and Joe Newberry

Mike Compton and Joe Newberry

Crownsville, MD February 11, 2012

Live performance review by Art Menius for http://artmenius.com


Mike Compton & Joe Newberry (c) Becky Johnson


Mike Compton and Joe Newberry mine one of the more neglected segments of country music history, that period during the 1930s and 1940s when brother duet music was transforming into bluegrass. Few are better equipped for the task with Newberry able to replicate the underappreciated power of Charlie Monroe’s rhythm guitar, while Compton has been acknowledged as a master of Monroe style mandolin playing for three decades. Add Joe’s exquisite open back banjo playing and their simpatico duet singing and you have a two person string band that can move effortlessly from Carter Family songs to “evil harmony laughing” to early bluegrass to Mike’s original tunes and Joe’s songs. Each set contained one of the latter’s compositions that the Gibson Brothers turned into bluegrass hits.

The many highlights of the well-paced show (the clock affirmed each lasted 45 minutes, but they seemed half that) include a reworking of Compton’s “Idle Time,” the title track of second Nashville Bluegrass Band LP a quarter century ago. Stripped down to its essence as a mandolin tune, it opened up a rhythmic thrust beyond the original. Mike, a long time stalwart of the John Hartford String Band, and Joe turned Hartford’s hippie anthem “Tall Buildings” into a convincing brother duet piece.

Compton and Newberry, best known as a member of Big Medicine, are not just veterans, but have found a partner whose music comes from the same place. Just as if on a back porch, they play to and for each other. The audience gets to share the joy the pair finds in doing it.