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Larry Sparks

Almost Home

(Rounder; US: 15 Mar 2011; UK: 15 Mar 2011)

Bluegrass vet still has it

Larry Sparks’s bluegrass guitar career stretches back to 1963, when he began playing guitar for Ralph Carter Stanley. Three years later he was singing for Stanley’s band, making him one of the genre’s longest-running voices. Almost Home, his latest full-length, is a sparkling album of bluegrass dexterity and high lonesome vocals.


Sparks never strays too far from the tried-and-true standards of the genre, but “Gunfighter’s Revenge” is a bit of a departure, a story-song that puts the good-natured Sparks in the boots of a cold-blooded killer. More typical are the nostalgic remembrances of “Momma’s Apron Strings” and “Bring ‘Em on Back”; and the life-on-the-road scorcher “Lines on the Highway”.


The instrumental work is impeccable throughout, as you would expect from a guitarist of this standing. With Ron Stewart on fiddle, Carl Berggren on mandolin and Tyler Mullins on banjo, the band rips effortlessly from one scorching break and swinging bridge to the next. Bluegrass isn’t for everyone, and this traditional style might alienate listeners hoping for some innovation in the form. For the rest of us, though, the album is a gem.

Rating:

DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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