A Beautiful Way to Say Goodbye

Larry Sparks: 40 (Rebel Records)

Larry Sparks

By Bob Mitchell

This is a monster release, an astounding celebration of Larry Sparks' 40 years in bluegrass and it is destined to be one of the best recordings of the year. The reigning IBMA Male vocalist provides an "in the park home run" and you'll be hearing more about it at the 2005 IBMA awards show. Just remember, you read it first in Louisville Music News.

The album 40 captures the richest voice in bluegrass in a stunning set of tunes that revisits classic Sparks songs. Distinctive and honest vocals that come from the deepest part of his soul are guaranteed to provide listening satisfaction from start to finish.

Sparks, alone, is worth the purchase price but "the youngest of the old-timers" (as he refers to himself) is joined by some of today's brightest stars. Every track is a masterpiece, but the Bluegrass Police would send me to jail if I didn't mention a few selections. "Georgia Peaches" is a expressive arrangement with Andy Griggs and the subtle clawhammer banjo of Jessie Wells. "City Folks Call Us Poor" has a first rate guitar solo from Sparks and some of the finest harmonies you`ll ever hear from Sharon White-Skaggs and Cheryl White.

Allison Krauss and Dan Tymanski lend a hand with a Sparks' signature tune "John Deere Tractor" (with some nice mandolin work from Scott Napier.) Vince Gill collaborates with Sparks on a no-nonsense, hard-driving "Blues Stay Away From Me," with phenomenal support from the band. Stuart Duncan's fiddle, David Harvey's mandolin, Josh McCurray's banjo and Randy's Kohrs' Dobro are fantastic.

Chris Jones, Don Rigsby and Sparks take "It's To Late To Walk The Floor" and kick it into an overdrive that will leave you gasping for breath. Russell Moore, Ronnie Bowman and Sparks slow things down with the classic tear-jerker "Brand New Broken Heart." Ralph Stanley and Ricky Skaggs' collaboration with Sparks on "Sharecropper's Son" is as good as it gets. For the past few years there has been a great deal of discussion about what is and what is not bluegrass music. This release puts and end to the debate. Every track is authentic bluegrass, period. Anything else is a synthetic substitute.

Other highlights include the perfect blending of male and female voices as Sparks shares the spotlight with IBMA's Female Vocalist Of The Year, Rhonda Vincent on "1-800-Do-U-Care," a classic song about lost love. Also known for his gospel music, Sparks includes four powerful songs from that genre: "Where The Sweet Water Flows" with the Isaacs; "I Need Jesus" with the incredible Marshall Family; "I Want You To Meet My Friend" with the legendary Tom T. Hall and a Sparks solo to close the project titled "New Highway."

Other guests on this stellar recording include: Carl Jackson, Larry Cordle, Paul Williams, Jim Hurst, Kenny Smith, Tim Stafford and Rebecca Lynn Howard.

On a five-point scale of excellence, this release is a 10. For more information, check out www.rebelrecords.com