Hot Rize,
So Long of a Journey
(Sugar Hill, 2002)

Hot Rize was one of the '80s finest bluegrass bands, playing a combination of standards and originals guaranteed to please any bluegrass fan. It didn't hurt that the players -- Tim O'Brien, Charles Sawtelle, Nick Forster and Pete Wernick -- had a great vocal blend and were each masters of their chosen instruments. Hot Rize broke up in 1992, but got back together for a reunion concert in 1996, the source of this recording, and it's a highly recommended treat for bluegrass fans.

It all kicks off with a hot "Blue Night" and a lovely rendition of "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning," and it's smooth sailing all the way. It has that perfect sound of a band that's worked together for so long that one knows what the other is thinking. The band's great repertoire is revisited and sounds as fine as ever, with "Colleen Malone," "Working on a Building," "Shadows in My Room" and many more, 19 songs in all. There's no sign of Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers here, but they won't be missed with all the other superb music.

This album also serves as a farewell to Hot Rize guitarist Charles Sawtelle, who, at the time of this concert, was struggling with the leukemia with which he was diagnosed in 1993, and from which he died in 1999. All three remaining members write a brief essay included in the booklet, and their tributes to Sawtelle are deeply moving. The booklet also contains eight superb black-and-white photos of the concert, whose vividness almost allows you to hear the music without playing the CD.

If you've ever enjoyed Hot Rize, or you just love bluegrass music, this one's a must-have. It's the end of an era, and this is the final testament to the great music made by a great band. The last track, "Won't You Come and Sing For Me," serves both as a farewell to the band and to Charles Sawtelle, with its moving lyrics, "In my home beyond the dark river/Your sweet faces no more I will see/Until we meet where there's no more sad parting/Won't you come and sing for me."

[ by Chet Williamson ]
Rambles: 18 May 2002

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