Tony Rice,
58957: The Bluegrass Guitar Collection
(Rounder, 2003)

No, it's not a zip code. Tony Rice named this compilation after his beloved Martin D 28, which was once owned by another bluegrass legend, Clarence White; 58957 is the guitar's serial number. It is appropriate that Rice (who collaborated on two albums featuring vintage instruments with David Grisman) gives his guitar top billing here (there's even a bio of it in the liner notes). Under the unassuming title, however, lurks a top-notch collection of some of the best bluegrass you'll ever hear.

Rice is one of the all-time greats as far as bluegrass guitar is concerned. Part of a musical family who began playing in childhood, he was influenced by Doc Watson and Clarence White, then began to blaze his own trail. The pieces on 58957 are drawn from Rice's solo albums, as well as albums credited to the Tony Rice Unit, the Rice Brothers and the Bluegrass Album Band. Three cuts are drawn from collaborations with Norman Blake. There's even a cut from Bela Fleck's album Drive.

A short Rice/Rounder discography appears in the liner notes for those wanting to augment their collections (a likely response to hearing the music on this disc for the first time). There are no previously unreleased tracks here and everything is from Rounder's catalogue. If you're a Rice completist, you should have all this music already.

Even though Rice gets top billing, he is joined by some of the best contemporary bluegrass players: Darol Anger, Norman Blake, Sam Bush, Vassar Clements, J.D. Crowe, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Bela Fleck, Jimmy Gaudreau, David Grisman, Doyle Lawson, Todd Phillips, Mark Schatz, Doc Watson ... well, you get the idea. Those are some of the luminaries who join Rice on this album and there's a real joy in hearing all these terrific musicians cut loose and have fun together. If bluegrass makes you smile, this album will have you grinning from ear to ear. If you can stop dancing around the room long enough to listen a little harder, you'll find sophisticated compositions and jaw-dropping virtuosity in abundance. There are no vocals on any of these cuts (apart from musicians encouraging each other), so the instrumental chops are the undisputed center of attention.

Ron Block of Alison Krauss's band Union Station contributes a biographical essay placing Rice's innovative guitar work in historical perspective. Rice himself comments on the individual cuts. Rice's enthusiasm for the music and his fellow musicians comes through in the notes as he points out excellent solos by others and reminisces about great recording sessions. On the other hand, you can hear that enthusiasm in the music itself.

Trying to distill Rice's long career into one album (albeit one with 21 selections) had to have been a daunting task; someday there should be a box set of his music. Confirmed Rice diehards will probably wish there was some previously unreleased music here, but there's something to be said for having all these musical highlights in one place. It's an excellent introduction not only to Rice's music but to modern bluegrass in general. Those of us who somehow never got around to picking up all those albums the first time around can now enjoy this disc and add several pages to our lists of must-find music. Highly recommended.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 15 May 2004

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