Bryan Sutton: Not Too Far from the Tree

This album gives Sutton the justifiable opportunity to step to the forefront of an album, while presenting a tribute to -- and celebration of -- bluegrass guitars and guitarists.

Bryan Sutton

Not Too Far from the Tree

Subtitle: A Collection of Guitar Duets with Heroes & Friends
Label: Sugar Hill Records
US Release Date: 2006-03-14
UK Release Date: 2006-03-20

In 2005, acoustic guitar virtuoso Bryan Sutton took his 1940 Martin D-28 and a recording rig to visit some friends and play some old favorites. The result is this appropriately-titled Not Too Far from the Tree: A Collection of Guitar Duets with Heroes & Friends. The 33-year-old Sutton wears his influences proudly, and the album is a well-crafted and heartfelt tribute to the 12 best living bluegrass pickers, including Tony Rice, Doc Watson, Norman Blake, and Earl Scruggs.

Most bluegrass fans will be familiar with the album's song selections -- traditional tunes homespun with a handful of bluegrass standards. This genre's genteel sensibility is aptly reflected in the duets' cordial sincerity. Each song displays the rapport of a conversation between friends. One needn't be a guitar aficionado to appreciate the interaction, and the album's 50 minutes pass amiably.

An important component of the album is Sutton's liner notes, which describe the song selection, the recording location, and the guitars played. Sutton also provides a brief history of how he met these heroes and friends, and explains which elements of each player's style he particularly admires. For Rice, it is his power and tone, and, indeed, Rice's fluidity is unmistakable. His ringing fret board explorations make "Lonesome Fiddle Blues" and "Dusty Miller" album highlights. It is clear why Sutton chose Rice for two song selections.

Watson's flatpicking genius is a seminal element of the bluegrass style of guitar, and his rhythmic groove on "Whiskey Before Breakfast" gives the song a tangible air of fun, reinforced by his mid-song vocalizations of "Uh-huh!" and "Yeah!" Though Scruggs is credited with "inventing" the roll of bluegrass banjo, his guitar in "Give Me the Roses" is more delicate than driving, more spacious than speedy. Scruggs and Sutton's proficiency make it easy to forget that this is a duet by two gentlemen who differ in age by 50 years, playing instruments that are 40 to 60 years old. There's a lone Dobro within the 12 acoustic guitars played on the album, and Jerry Douglas' take on "Bonaparte's Retreat" is expressively lyrical -- the resonance of his slide seems to sing the song's words.

Those accompanists who fall on the more "peer" than "legend" end of the spectrum -- say, Russ Barenberg, Jack Lawrence, and Dan Crary -- are also showcased with equal reverence. The album even includes a recording of the first song Sutton was taught, "Billy in the Lowground", captured as a duet with his father in the living room of the house where the younger Sutton grew up and spent many hours practicing.

There's a very warm sound to these recordings and, under the scrutiny of headphones, the listener can better enjoy the natural blend of the guitars and the delightful tone of some legendary instruments -- namely, Rice's 1935 Martin D-28 and the 1939 Martin D-18 that Norman Blake once immortalized in song. These are live takes with no overdubbing. There is only one slight catch to an otherwise very natural and genuine recording process: Sutton's liner notes explain that he edited some of the "best" moments together from a few takes of each song.

Sutton has appeared on recordings by Dolly Parton, The Dixie Chicks, Ricky Skaggs' Kentucky Thunder, and Rhonda Vincent. Not Too Far from the Tree: A Collection of Guitar Duets with Heroes & Friends gives him the justifiable opportunity to step to the forefront of an album, while presenting a tribute to -- and celebration of -- bluegrass guitars and guitarists.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.