The Summit of Bluegrass

A School of Bluegrass (Crossroads)
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver

By Bob Mitchell

Two-thousand-four has been an excellent year for one of bluegrass music's most distinguished artists, Doyle Lawson. Not only did he celebrated his 25th anniversary in bluegrass, but also he received five prestigious IBMA nominations: Entertainer of the Year, Mandolin Player of the Year, Vocal Group of the Year, Album of the Year (for School of Bluegrass) and Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year (for Thank God, which was reviewed in the March 2004 Issue of Louisville Music News).

This project also marks the first-ever Billboard chart appearance, at No. 11, for Lawson and his band Quicksilver. It is a rare glimpse into invaluable and previously unreleased recordings from Lawson's private collection of rehearsal and concert tapes. It's thrilling to listen to 13 configurations of Quicksilver and the evolution of Lawson's trademark tight harmony.

Although the lineup has changed over the years, the group maintained the highest standards of professionalism and artistic vision thanks to contributions from the likes of Russell Moore, Ray Deaton, Jim Mills, Terry Baucom, Jimmy Haley, Scott Vestel, Mike Hargrove, Randy Graham, Shawn Lane, Barry Abernathy, Steve Gully, Jimmy VanCleve, Dale Perry, Hunter Berry, Barry Scott, Brad Campbell, Lou Reid, Jimmy Stewart, Dale Perry and J.W. Stockman. Astounding.

This release has it all. Rip-roaring instrumentals include "Big Country," "Up On The Blue Ridge," "Leather Britches," "Sally Goodin'"(with Doyle on banjo), "Careless Love," "Twinkle Little Star" and more. Spine tingling gospel and a capella favorites include "The Little Community Church," "Jezebel," "Every Time I Feel The Spirit," "Move To The Top of the Mountain," "The Prince Of Peace" (the first a capella song Lawson recorded), "I Feel Happy In My Soul Today," "Lay Your Burdens At His Feet," "Ezekiel Saw The Wheel" and more. There is so much music and so little print space, but other extraordinary tracks that deserve a mention are "Sweetheart You Done Me Wrong," "Tennessee Banjo Man," "Your Crazy Heart," "Heartbreak Insurance," "You'll Never Be The Same," "Amber Tresses," and "I Know The Way To You By Heart."

The incredible skills here are evident on each of these stunning recordings. The rhythmic drive is distinctive and the vocals are consistently powerful. School is a formidable release with a mixture of structure and spontaneity. It short, it is an exuberant listening experience. There can be no doubt that Lawson and Quicksilver will influence the next generation of musicians. On a five-point scale of excellence, this release is a six.