Everyone remembers Gary Bennett as co-frontman of retro country BR549. Along with Chuck Mead they sang the hillbilly songs that had BR549 touted as the next big thing. In fairness they were big, but not on the Garth Brooks level that us real country fans hoped for. Bennett left the band in 2001 and stepped away from the music scene until 2006, and it's that journey that this CD focuses on. Directed by former BR549er Smilin' Jay McDowell, for his Nashville based company, Vintage Flick Productions, the DVD features live footage together with a bonus feature looking at the making of GB's Human Condition album.
The live concert was filmed in Nashville in May of 2006, and features a selection from the then current album, Human Condition together with a few numbers from the BR549 years. The band is excellent with Milan Miller on guitar and harmony vocals, Jimmy Lester on drums and the great Mark Winchester (Planet Rockers/Brian Setzer) on bass. Special guest for the show was Donnie Herron, professor of the fiddle, mandolin, steel guitar and just about anything that makes a sound. It was the first time they'd played together since the parting of the ways in 2001.
The concert kicks off with Human Condition before moving into the great brisque hillbilly number That’s What I’m here For with it’s 50’s country feel that suits Bennett to a tee. Miller plays some tasty licks and it’s the kind of number that stood BR549 from the crowd. GB’s sounds soooo country on Headin’ Home with it’s 60’s California sound. Ain’t Getting’ No Younger is introduced as the first song he wrote after moving to Nashville, and it shows his massive talent as both a writer and singer. Listen to that voice on Ship In A Bottle and tell me that Nashville can do without stars like this – Big & Rich might live up to their names but they aren’t fit to tune GB’s guitar.
The Ship isn’t my favourite song but it sees Donnie Herron join the band, and his haunting fiddle adds a neat edge to the song. Better Than This is much more like it. The BR549 years are acknowledged with the foot-tapping, While You Were Gone and an brilliant version of their biggie, Even If It’s Wrong.
The bonus documentary on the DVD includes footage from the 2005 recording sessions, interviews, rare BR549 footage, photographs, demo recordings and some home videos. It's all fascinating stuff and you get a real sense of what a great, charming bloke Gary Bennett is.
Nowadays, he's back playing on Nashville's legendary Lower Broadway, at the Full Moon Saloon on Wednesday nights. He's re-formed The McNeills with his nephew Jason Capps. They originally formed the band in Portland, Oregon back in 1991. The street is thriving and he's more than happy to be back there. "It's really changed down there," Gary says of the downtown tourist district. "There are way more good bands than there were when we were down there. People clamour to it now, and it's exciting. That street deserves that level of popularity. This is the most excited I’ve felt about going out and playing live in a long time. We are gonna have a lot of fun! We'll stick to mainly original songs, with a cover thrown in here and there.”
So what you have here is a wonderful DVD that pays homage to a great talent – one that still has more to offer. Hopefully a new album won’t be too far away.