Sam Bush,
King of My World
(Sugar Hill, 2004)

There's always great fun to be had and mucho musical chops to admire with any Sam Bush solo album, and the new King of My World is no exception. The dazzling multi-instrumentalist, in collusion with Jon Randall Stewart and Brad Davis on guitars, Byron House on bass, Chris Brown on drums, and a few other cohorts, presents 11 dandy tracks of bluegrass/jazz/oldtime/rock/whatever fusion -- just call it terrific music and be done with it.

If you tend to forget what a fine fiddler Bush is, "Puppies 'n Knapsacks," the first track, will remind you. It's a bouncy, uptempo bluegrass tune with a touch of the Celt to it. Keb Mo's bluesy "A Better Man" is a good change of pace, featuring a sweet solo by Davis on the "Bradbender," which has the soulful sound of an electric dobro. We're back to the roots with "Eight More Miles to Louisville," which shows off Bush's relaxed style of mando picking, Jon Randall's laidback guitar stylings and some high and lonesome vocal harmonies.

Bush's mandolin gets more pyrotechnical with the long solo that starts off "They're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone." It's a burner, and a great intro to the driving vocal that follows. "Bananas" is a down and funky instrumental with a lightly Latin feel and an awesome display of Bushian chops, while the title track is an effective power ballad, filled out by Reese Wynans's full piano comping. Self-consciously new-agey lyrics dull the edge of "Spirit is the Journey," but the tune is quirky and rhythmic enough to retain interest.

Ed Snodderly's "Majestic" is one of those songs that gets better and better with repeated listening. It's a blues-tinged story of a shoeshine artiste that you'll be humming for hours afterward. "Bless His Heart" doesn't work quite as well, with its claim that "You can say what you want about whoever you want," as long as you say "Bless his heart" afterward. Maybe it's a Southern thing....

"The Mahavishnu Mountain Boys" does indeed have a tinge of Indian music. It's a slow-starter that builds to a blazing tempo, then slows down again. Everyone gets a chance to shine, and Bush's fiddle takes center stage with several emotionally charged solos. The whole thing is a real tour de force that might have been a better conclusion to the CD than the fun but lightweight "The Wizard of Oz," a buoyant tribute to Bush's beloved Ozzie Smith, the famed St. Louis Cardinals shortstop. Andrea Zonn adds her fiddle to Sam's for some spiffy twin fiddling.

King of My World is another feather in Sam Bush's musical chapeau, with his usual eclectic variety of musical styles and hot picking. There's also more musical depth and thought evident on this release than on some of his previous ones, in which chops seemed to be all-important. Bush's instrumental work here is often deeply moving, as though evincing a newfound maturity. It's a welcome change from the man too often thought of as the Energizer Bunny of new acoustic music.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 11 September 2004

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