The late great Tony Rice’s breakthrough album ‘Manzanita‘ (1979) showcased his ability to blend traditional bluegrass and folk with more progressive playing. It set the tone for the development of progressive bluegrass over the next three decades. It truly is a classic, but, as you may have noticed, ‘Manzanita‘ is not the focus of this piece.
The Americana classic I’ve chosen is the wholeheartedly un-progressive ‘Tony Rice Plays and Sings Bluegrass‘. Featuring an all-star line-up including Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and Vassar Clements, among others, it is, simply, forty minutes of straight-the-the-point, face-melting bluegrass.
The songs, in the main, are bluegrass standards from the likes of Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt, although there are a few more mainstream offerings, including a Dylan cover. The songs are merely a framework however from which to hang the blistering breaks and joyous harmonies. It’s simple bluegrass taken to its logical conclusion, and everyone is on absolutely top form.
Rice shines throughout, his voice buttery smooth and his D-28 G runs increasingly brutal. He sadly lost the ability to both play and sing towards the end of his life, but this record stands as a testament to the dazzling talent he had. It’s not progressive, and maybe if you’re not a bluegrass fan it won’t stand out to you, but this record is truly a pinnacle of bluegrass guitar playing – an artist at his peak, doing what he did best – absolutely shredding.