By Larry Stephens
Most anyone who has been around bluegrass for a while will recognize Wyatt Rice’s name. He has recorded and performed with his brothers, Ron, Larry, and Tony Rice, as well as the Ronnie Bowman Committee. He also has a rich bluegrass history on his own including heading Wyatt Rice and Santa Cruz. He has teamed with Dan Menzone, a name that may not be as recognizable in bluegrass circles but not for a lack of activity. Besides his own projects, he has been associated with Traver Hollow and Gail Wade and Turning Point.
They have combined instrumentals with songs using some well–known singers. Russell Moore sings lead on “Big Black Wheels,” an Elmer Burchett composition that tears along at high speed and is a perfect showcase for a banjo. Moore also sings lead on “Lonesome Highway,” a Donna Hughes composition with Dale Ann Bradley singing tenor and Dan Boner singing baritone. Moore is an excellent lead singer and the harmony with Bradley and Boner is very good though kept in the background in the mix. Both tracks display the skills of the musicians including Adam Steffey (mandolin), Fred Carpenter (fiddle), Rob Ickes (dobro) and brother Ron Rice (bass). Combining these musicians with Wyatt Rice (guitar) an Menzone (banjo) you have a stellar band.
Moon Mullican’s “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone” is sung in a high energy version by Don Rigsby with Bradley singing tenor. I like their version but the songs are mixed almost hiding the harmonies. Bringing (on this track) Bradley more to the forefront would have enhanced the singing. “I Know What It Means To Be Lonesome” goes way back to The Carter Family recordings and has been recorded by a bevy of artists since. I heard it on the Bean Blossom stage at least twice this past week and it’s always a popular number. “Another Town” is sung by Richard Bennett with Rigsby adding tenor. This was composed by Tom T Hall and was popularized by Hall when it came out in the early ’70’s.
As good as the songs and singers are, this is really a showcase for the instrumentalists. With the exception of Bill Keith’s “Beating Around the Bush,” the instrumental tracks are Menzone compositions. All the players are in the top tier of acoustic musicians so you hear excellent performances. Some are slower, more contemplative like “Grey Rain,” at 7:57 the longest piece on the CD. The slower pace allows some interesting interplay between the instruments as they take turns on lead. “Five Play” seems more lighthearted while “Faith, Hope and Love” plays at a slower pace and, for some reason, conjured images in my mind of very polite dancers in a scene from the mid–1800’s.
Whether played at breakneck speed or backing a vocalist, these players know how to get the best from their instruments and how to interact with the other musicians. You have to enjoy instrumentals, but this is an exellent acoustic music CD.