ROOTS COUNTRY, BLUEGRASS, SOUL AT THE JAZZ KITCHEN
by
George Fish

Sunday, May 17, 2015 was dubbed affectionately “Hillbilly Night” at Indianapolis’ Jazz Kitchen, an early-evening show of roots
country music by Frank Dean and the Last Country Band.  Opening the show were Dean’s good friends the Punkin Holler Boys, one
of Central Indiana’s premier bluegrass bands, who did an engaging show of all originals.  The five-man Punkin Holler Boys are multi-
instrumentalists, featuring guitar, dobro and stand-up bass, with, additionally, three sizes of mandolin, a banjo, and a fiddle.  While
most of the vocals were in the hands of the very capable Ralph Lee Jeffers, each of the other band members—Craig Small, John
Bower, Stuart Poe and Mike Calvert—did at least one lead vocal apiece of original songs that delighted both in musical artistry and
frequently sardonic humor.  Standing out were the song of quintessential mean-spirited egotism, “I’m A Bastard;” the unpleasant
look at Nature, “I Killed A Snake;” and the bluesy “Goin’ Down To The Swamp.”  The Punkin Holler Boys have several CDs out,
and are regularly featured at another top musical venue for live music in Indianapolis, the Melody Inn, which hosts Hillbilly Happy
Hour every early evening on Fridays.  This was an outstanding bluegrass performance, modern and creative in its songs, excellently
traditional in the bluegrass tradition in its instrumental performances.  

Frank Dean, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, has fronted many a band in his musical career, and the Last Country Band is his latest
effort.  A modern country “traditionalist” who eschews the second-rate rock ‘n’ roll, stereotypical songs and trendy commercialism
of current Nashville ersatz, Dean favors the earlier approach of the country giants from the 1950s through the 1970s, as exemplified
by performers such as Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, songs of each were featured in the set, along with Frank
Dean originals—among them “You Walked Tall,” a hit of sorts for Dean when this tribute song to Johnny Cash was picked up and
recorded, performed live, by Cash’s band, the Tennessee Three.  The set opened and closed as the penultimate number with
Jennings’ “I don’t Think Hank Did It This Way,” a rollicking song with melancholy overtones about the struggles of on-the-road
musicians.  Also featured was a medley of truck-driving songs, with another three-song tribute medley to Bobby Bare, an early
influence on Dean.  The Last Country Band is a five-piece outfit with, in addition to Dean, Scott Parkhurst on vocals, electric guitar
and both neck-rack and hand-held harmonica; LuAnn Lancton, supporting and lead vocals and percussion; Herb Clarkson, pedal
steel guitar and vocals; and the rhythm section of Floyd Tucker, bass, and Steve Kennedy, drums and vocals.  Parkhurst took the
lead on several vocals, with Lancton, Clarkson and Kennedy doing one lead vocal each.

Frank Dean, who makes no secret of his left-leaning political views, ended the set with an acoustic number that portrayed the
struggles of the down-and-out.  He punctuated his introductory remarks to the song with “Poor people aren’t stupid or lazy—they’re
just poor,” a thematic underpinning of the song itself, repeating as chorus, “I’m a soldier of life/Searching for the truth.”  With its
unstated humanism of “Aren’t we all?” no matter what our station in life, or fortune or misfortune.

It was indeed a great evening of roots Americana brought up-to date; and just as with another memorable performance (though in
fantasy), that of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, “a splendid time was had by all!”