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VISITING ACT: Larry Keel

Even Keel: In the Backwoods with gruff-voiced, fast-fingered Larry

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"Faster Horses" from the album Backwoods
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Back when the Pour House was a hole-in-the-wall joint in West Ashley, Larry Keel used to turn the tiny venue into a hazy, crowded inferno. Whether he came solo or with wife Jenny in tow on upright bass, Keel knows how to growl and pick a bluegrass crowd into a drooling frenzy.

"The crowd there is so warm and friendly," says Keel. "It's great to come back every time."

Keel's rounding the curve of 40 years of age, most of which he's been playing bluegrass music. At 18, he got his first break when he and some buddies from Virginia were hired by Disney to play at the Tokyo Disney World for six months.

"We played six days a week, seven half hour shows a day," says Keel. "I got my chops up."

Since those days, Keel's built a name as a quintessential guest musician, jamming on stage and in projects with nearly every bluegrass great, including Tony Rice, Béla Fleck, the late Vassar Clements, David Grisman, Peter Rowan, and Sam Bush. He and Jenny toured and recorded an album with Keller Williams last year, who lent his hand as producer to Keel's latest studio album, Backwoods.

Comprised of Larry, Jenny, Mark Schimick (mandolin), and Jason Flournoy (banjo), Keel's Natural Bridge has honed their sound on the new release, without at all sacrificing the exploratory bluegrass jams the tight unit creates. Songs like "They" include epic build-ups uncharacteristic of most traditional acoustic 'grass groups.

"All them rules is what messes everything up," says Keel, who says he stays tapped into the popular youthful music of the day. "All the greats, they all invented a lot of the things they were doing — Bill Monroe, Miles Davis — they were the original progressive musicians." —Stratton Lawrence

Larry Keel & Natural Bridge perform at the Pour House (1977 Maybank Hwy., 843-571-4343) at 9 p.m. on Fri. Feb. 27. Admission is $12 ($10 adv.). Visit www.charlestonpourhouse.com and

www.larrykeel.com for more.

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