Bryan Sutton,
Bluegrass Guitar
(Sugar Hill, 2003)

It's been a great year so far for bluegrass instrumental albums, and one of the best to come along is this sophomore solo outing by Bryan Sutton. In the company of Dennis Crouch, Tim Crouch, Tim O'Brien and Dave Talbot, Sutton has recorded 12 classic tracks of bluegrass.

From the first minute, you know you're in the presence of a master. Sutton is a flat-picker par excellence who will make bluegrass fans grin like kids and make other guitarists' jaws drop. "Hangman's Reel" is a quirky fiddle tune that adapts perfectly to guitar, at least in Sutton's capable hands. The next track, "Daley's Reel," is unbelievably smooth. It's extraordinary how easy and effortless Sutton makes his playing sound. His solos flow like a stream of clear water. Sutton mostly yields the stage to the other pickers on "The High Road," and they do a great job. There's gorgeous harmony between mandolin and guitar here.

Benny Martin's "Back Up and Push" gets a nice reading with some propulsive banjo playing by Talbot. There are creative improvisations all through this old chestnut, with a crystal clear guitar run at the end. Tim Crouch's fiddle has a glorious solo on "Margaret's Waltz," which closes with an equally lovely guitar/fiddle duet. Sutton roams all over the fretboard with the old-timey "High Heel Shoe," and his own "Nelia's Dance" is as peppy as a toad frog on a hot skillet (or place your own folksy simile here).

Sutton adapts Bela Fleck's "Whippersnapper" perfectly, showing how economy of motion can serve a guitarist far better than frenzy. Bill Monroe's "Roanoke" gets a great reading, as does the old standard, "Beaumont Rag," and the CD ends lyrically with "The Storms Are on the Ocean," showing still another side of Sutton's talents. Don't take the disc out right away, however, as it ends with a cute little fiddle tune with guitar.

Am I in awe of this guy? You bet I am. This is the kind of guitar player that makes other guitar players decide to take up the ocarina. But if you can stand the pain of knowing that you'll never be this good, not even if you practice an extra 10 minutes every day, you'll love it. And bluegrass fans in general are going to find a good sturdy helping of musical delectability here. So everybody go chow down!

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 30 August 2003

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