Tony Rice- Guitar Vinyl reissue reviewed

Tony Rice Guitar Rebel Records

There has been no end to bluegrass albums labeled as classics. Some of them even deserve the renown such a reference implies.

Tony Rice’s recording debut, released in 1974, is arguably one of those recordings, an album that will be within the number should my book One Hundred Essential Bluegrass Albums ever see light of day.

Released on Red Clay, King, and Rebel over the years, the new 2022 vinyl edition of the album sometimes called “got me a martin guitar” is essential for those desiring an ‘upgrade’ from a worn, thin, or Kellogg’s pressing.

Recorded while a member of J. D. Crowe’s The New South, Guitar not only features a young Rice (23 years), but also Crowe on five-string and New South bassist Bobby Slone along with Rice’s older brother Larry on mandolin. One notes that with Crowe’s passing last year, the session participants are all deceased.

Recorded as the progressive movement within bluegrass was in full acceleration, Guitar contains plenty of elements that may cause some to raise an eyebrow, but we have ignored those folks for plenty of years and there is no need to pay them any mind now. ’This’ is a bluegrass recording.

If these songs weren’t familiar to most everyone in 1974, they certainly are now.

Side One is ‘marred,’ in my opinion, by a rather sleepy rendition of “Faded Love,” a song that I find tiresome. Naturally, it is expertly executed, but just isn’t to my pleasure. On the other hand, “Salt Creek” is bluegrass perfection, Rice’s picked notes flying from his Martin, with Crowe and Larry Rice augmenting the arrangement like the professionals they were.

The vocal numbers, “Doing My Time” and “Freeborn Man,” together present the purity of Rice’s voice, young, nimble, and still finding its way toward definitive distinctiveness—but darned impressive nonetheless. It is impossible to be unimpressed by Rice’s guitar playing on this album: I’ll leave it to others to analyze—and they have and will continue to do so—but I can only imagine how listeners reacted as they initially experienced the acuity Rice brought to the music.

Side Two: unmitigated perfection. “Windy and Warm” serves as a gentle opening interlude as we settle in to enjoy fifteen minutes of genre-defining bluegrass. “John Hardy,” “Nine Pound Hammer,” and “Lonesome Reuben” have been performed by everyone from Doc Watson on down, but the energy and presentation captured in the Lemco Recording Studio in Lexington, Kentucky that day in 1974 continues to resonate as we approach the fiftieth anniversary of their performance. The mood of “Lonesome Reuben” is especially impressive, beginning with Rice coaxing texture from the notes he executes as Crowe and Larry again ideally work together to further amplify the impact. For me, this is one of bluegrass music’s enduring, signature performances.

I would be interested in reading a contemporaneous review of Guitar, but I can’t find one online. I can’t imagine the album was any less impacting in the early and mid-Seventies as it would be to a first-time listener today. This fresh and crisp-sounding edition of Guitar, pressed on heavy black vinyl with new and (I’m sorry) much improved front cover art—seemingly from the same set of photos from which the tiny “got me a martin guitar” picture originated—is worthy of investment. Mr. Frank Godbey’s liner notes are also much appreciated: I miss the BGrass-L.

I hope Rebel Records continues this series of vinyl reissues, initiated with California Autumn. I am confident the greater bluegrass audience is as appreciative of Rebel’s efforts as I am.

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