Out of the Woodwork

Chris Hillman, Tony Rice, Herb Pedersen, Larry Rice

(ROUN 0390)

Rounder Records, Inc.
One Camp Street
Cambridge, MA 02140

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A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Alex Wright
(Chromamus@aol.com)

I've listened to the work of these four players as individuals and in different combinations for well over 20 years. To say that they individually represent abilities and accomplishments that have served to form the lexicon of both traditional and cross-genre abilities in writing and playing is an understatement.

I believe these guys could make any song they chose to play sound clean, effortless, tasteful, and beautiful. But what is it they have chosen to do here? A number of originals written by the players, interspersed with several stylistic surprises, including Do Right Woman, The Dimming of the Day by Richard Thompson, and Stephen Stills' So Begins the Task. These choices reflect a democratic process of material selection as pointed out in the liner notes and credits. The project would have benefited by an objective producer's ear challenging these great players. Rather, it seems that what we have here is friendly camaraderie and rapport which makes the project sound almost too easy. The recording is pleasant, and clean, and appropriate, well recorded, and ... forgettable. I haven't found a song that stays with me, although I enjoy the album each time I play it. After listening a few times, I almost long for a glitch, a note held too long, an imperfection.

Who hasn't heard Chris Hillman as a player with the Byrds or The Desert Rose Band? Then there is the role Tony Rice has played in elevating the style of traditional flatpicking to include jazz, Latin, and pop country and by inference the work of his brother Larry Rice with J.D Crowe and The Rice Brothers. Herb Pedersen has been the heir apparent to the grandaddy of three-finger-style banjo playing himself, as he is the only player ever to stand in for The Scruggsman, as well as a partner in the Desert Rose Band. Though these players are all rooted in traditional bluegrass and country, they cannot, and do not, deny the influence of their time. They have each played major roles in bands, both official and pick-up, traditional and non-traditional, known for bending and shaping the musical tastes of today's audiences.

The arena for criticism of this particular effort is limited by the very nature and presence of these excellent players. I truly can not find a thing to say about their undeniable playing abilities, supported by the presence of Mike Auldridge and Jerry Douglas on Dobro and Slide guitar ( most notably on the R&B standard Do Right Woman), Ronnie Simpkins on bass, Rickie Simpkins on fiddle, and the occasional piano work of Danny Crawford.

Chris Hillman's vocals are exquisite, upbeat, making the listener feel right at home, as though everything is right where it should be; and the harmonies with Herb Pedersen sound as though these two fell out of the nest singing together. Hillman has writing credit on five songs with most of them following his recognizable pattern of chord changes every measure, lending a distinct pop sensibility to the craftsmanship of songwriting.

The great surprise on this album is the strong presence of Larry Rice as lead vocalist on several songs, displaying his strength and sensitivity as a songwriter and singer. Streetcorner Stranger is a plea to a companion in the 'now that I am in your shoes I understand you better' school of writing. His brother Tony's guitar work on the song is beautifully understated and tasteful. Larry Rice has chosen the Richard Thompson song 'The Dimming of the Day' as a poetic avowal of devotion complete with piano and Dobro. The song Lord, Won't You Help Me written by Norman Blake, and sung by Larry Rice, is a standout in the traditional style, with a straight ahead arrangement of restrained backup vocals illuminating the plaintive lyric of the verses driven by a positive tempo. This reunion effort (together again for the first time...) is welcome to my ears and, I hope, lays the groundwork for future high wattage material.

Edited by Kerry Dexter
(riosur@aol.com)

Copyright 1997, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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