Bryan Sutton is somewhat more than your average guitarist. In addition to being a sideman, session player and producer, he has toured with some of the most outstanding musicians Nashville has to offer (think Chris Thile, Earl Scruggs, Hot Rize, Ricky Skaggs and others). Sutton is a Grammy Award winner, and six-time International Bluegrass Music Association Guitar Player of the Year. Now, on his fourth album for Sugar Hill, Into My Own, he teams up with luminaries like Bill Frisell, Noam Pikelny, Sam Bush, Ronnie McCoury and Stuart Duncan to deliver a personal and far-reaching work of precision and poise.
The overall feel of Into My Own is one of power and control, and the ease in which the music comes to Sutton and his players. From the bouncing, rolling fiddle which begins the traditional “Cricket on the Hearth”, to its pace, and the way Noam Pikelny’s banjo’s interacts with the other instruments, it is not hard to feel that this is an all-action, all-star record. All of the individual parts of the band and the arrangements have a role, and deliver when and where it counts. Tunes like “Old Blake” especially show off this ease, with rolling, fluid lines populating both the verses and the breaks. The band plays with simpatico, whilst the title of the album is reflected by Sutton and his musicians very much being able to be themselves, and represent what they do to their fullest capabilities.
Joy and freedom shine through on the more restrained “That’s Where I Belong” (vocals by Luke Bulla), where the freeness of the theme fits with the relaxed instrumentation. All parts of the record are able to reflect Sutton’s experience and place in music. Guy Clark’s “Anyhow, I Love You” is treated with restrained power by Ronnie McCoury, whose efforts are again mirrored by the accompanists, illustrating perfectly how experience and mastery of music allows the album’s players to shine. This is simply real music, performed brilliantly. Sutton’s own “Cumberland Reel” is a delight, rushing like a river outwards from its fiddle intro, reflecting more than a hint of influence from the British Isles. The tune blooms, becoming something more, as the banjo and bass add melody and weight, the waves building up, flowing and cascading. Sutton’s guitar even adds ‘drips’ later on. Not everything is so expansive, however, with the simpler, more enclosed “Run Away” showcasing Sutton’s feel for the music on his own. He uses touches of clawhammer banjo to highlight his singing, whilst “Frisell’s Rag” has a lovely swinging feel, where all parts of the guitar player’s art are on show.
Into My Own is quite a serious album, which knows exactly what it is doing, but it is accessible to everyone who will take the chance and enjoy it. Tracks like “Overton Waltz” (another of Sutton’s own) has many different styles to it, first a rag, now a waltz – with a delicate, definitive approach which builds with knowledge and awareness – taking the listener far, far away, leaping and bounding with effortless, joyful banjo and fiddle. Life and light, for the sake of music and playing. Different notes are struck on “Log Jam”, with its funky, rougher mandolin and guitar-driven pace, Pikelny’s flowing banjo and Duncan’s flyaway fiddle. Its head-nodding, driving beat has a separate feel to the other pieces, showing off Sutton’s versatility and ability to bring out different emotions from his music.
“Been All Around This World” is a fitting summation of the record. Sutton’s own take on the tradition connects the fragments of stanzas which make up the song, making sense in the song’s story. His music, and the music he plays, has been all around the world – with its roots and branches – and he brings it together on a glorious, joyous album for all of the world to enjoy.