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CD Review: Highway 9 

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Oddly enough, Highway 9 is not a road. Rather than a dark midnight ribbon snaking beneath the headlights, it's a lazy Sunday stream sparkling on a summer afternoon. That, at least, is the sonic effect of Highway 9 from rootsy Elizaville combo the Acoustic Medicine Show. Only songwriter Joe Tobin and bassist Paul Chinelli remain from the band's original lineup, but as the former is the chief vocalist and tunesmith, the distinctive, self-described "mountainfolkgrass" sound stays true. Like many contemporary unplugged combos, the Acoustic Medicine Show leans hard toward bluegrass instrumentation while remaining a singer-songwriter vehicle. Tobin betrays a remarkable John Prine influence, but I have combed through the rule books and nowhere—nowhere—does it say that's a bad thing.

"Rockin' Chair" (with sweet backing vocals from Adele Schulz) echoes the easy lope of Prine's most recent material. It feels comfortable, not like a shoe, but like a big couch in the backyard under a tree that drips sap on the overstuffed arms. Like the rest of Tobin's material, it's not slavish or forced. He won't be taking home any Grammys soon, but his tunes are sure nice to groove to. Co-producer Mark Moss contributes lots of mighty fine mandolin, chopping on "Please Don't Go," trilling on "Melody," and picking forcefully on "Let Me Down Easy." Finnegan Shanahan matches him bow for pick on fiddle, with both offering a loose-elbowed kitchen jam aesthetic that sounds as specifically Hudson Valley as it does Appalachia. Theacousticmedicineshow.com.

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