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Posted October 1, 2010
Each track features some interesting and delightful guest appearances
Larry Sparks celebrates forty years of expert playing and singing with a generous 16-track album that immediately makes one sit up and take notice. Just inside the 28-page CD jacket full of photos and liner notes is the statement that “When the roll is called up yonder, Larry Sparks will stand among the greatest country singers in history.” Robert Oermann’s notes explain that by choosing the bluegrass music field, Larry Sparks has not achieved the fame, recognition and airplay of big-time country singers. However, some used to affectionately refer to him as “The Elvis of Bluegrass.” From southern Ohio, Sparks who now lives in Indiana began singing and playing bluegrass when he was only five years old. His sister Bernice taught him to play guitar. In 1965, Sparks’ first professional job (at age 18) was as guitarist with The Stanley Brothers, replacing George Shuffler. After Carter Stanley died in late 1966, Larry Sparks took over as the lead singer with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys until 1969 when he formed his own band, The Lonesome Ramblers. Released in March 2005 and produced by Don Rigsby, this album features an all-star cast of Andy Griggs, Alison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, Rhonda Vincent, Kevin Denney, Stuart Duncan, Ralph Stanley, David Harvey, Randy Kohrs, Chris Jones, Josh McMurray, Tom T. Hall, Ronnie Bowman and many others. Each track features some interesting and delightful guest appearances from Larry’s friends and supporters. For example, Krauss sings with Sparks on “John Deere Tractor,” and Vince Gill joins him on an up-tempo rendition of “Blues Stay Away From Me.” The Isaacs provide some exceptional vocal harmonies of “Where the Sweet Water Flows,” a song written by Larry and his sister. Halfway through the project, an a cappella version of “I Need Jesus” with The Marshall Family is very tastefully rendered. Following that is the up-tempo “Sharecropper’s Son” which is rendered with an arrangement faithfully close to the first song that Larry recorded with Ralph Stanley on May 7, 1967, complete with harmonica provided by Kirk “Jellyroll” Johnson. In October 2004, Larry Sparks won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Male Vocalist of the Year Award. He closes “40” with a rawboned version of Homer Jackson’s “New Highway,” with guitar, bass, mandolin and with Larry singing all three vocal parts. This album is a must-have to fully understand and appreciate the talent and depth of one of bluegrass music’s most respected and cherished stylists. But if one were just to think he’s a vocalist, don’t be mistaken. Check out the instrumental “Carter’s Blues” with top guitarists Kenny Smith, Vince Gill, Tim Stafford, and Jim Hurst sharing the breaks with Sparks. (Joe Ross, staff writer, Bluegrass Now)Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.