Bryan Sutton made his name in bluegrass circles as one of
the genre’s most reliable sidemen. As a hired gun for Ricky Skaggs, Chris Thile
and Bela Fleck’s most recent bluegrass trio, Sutton has proved he can provide
one of the fastest draws in flat-picking guitar since the youthful heyday of
Tony Rice. On Almost Live, it’s time
for many of Sutton’s high-profile friends to return the favor.
By and large this mostly instrumental album is pure porn for
string-o-philes who can’t get enough of mind-blowing guitar runs and banjo
rolls. The opening “Morning Top” is a pastoral newgrass ripper with Sutton
trading licks with Fleck, mandolin ace Sam Bush and dobro master Jerry Douglas.
He then enlists the next generation and mingles with Thile and his youthful
cohorts in the Punch Brothers-fiddler Gabe Witcher and banjo picker Noam
Pikelny-on the complex sunny romp “Big Island Hornpipe.”
Fortunately, though, these spontaneous studio sessions
(hence the album title) aren’t just exercises in virtuosic grass-turbation.
Some refreshing vocals come from Tim O’Brien in a reading of Norman Blake’s
“Church Street Blues,” which finds Sutton standing in with the rarely reunited
Colorado group Hot Rize. The guitarist then embraces his inner-Django with an
original swing jazz composition “Le Pont De La Moustache”-a welcome sign that
instrumental wizardry can come with a little soul.
Standout Tracks: “Big
Island Hornpipe,” “Church Street Blues” JEDD FERRIS