Telling More Good Stories

Larry Stephenson

Life Stories (Pinecastle)

By Bob Mitchell

When Stephenson sings a bluegrass song he sings it right, that is to say, with honest emotion framed in the traditional "high lonesome" sound. Energetic opening track "Old Kentucky Hills" sets the tone for another first rate project from the four-time SPBGMA contemporary male vocalist of the year.

Like many other top artists, Stephenson surrounds himself with other outstanding musicians who also have a deep respect for traditional bluegrass. Band members include Dustin Benson on guitar and harmony vocals, Aaron McDaris on banjo and harmony vocals, Missy Raines on bass (the incredible IBMA bass player of the year), Shad Cobb and Jimmy VanCleve on fiddle and Rob Ickes on the Weissenborn acoustic guitar. For the most part, Stephenson, one of the industry's most respected artists, is recognized for his distinctive high tenor lead but this release is also a showcase for his mandolin-picking prowess. Two examples can be found in a top-notch cover of Lester Flatt's "Why Don't You Tell Me So?" and an original frolicking instrumental, "Monrovia" (co written with Benson and McDaris).

Three of my personal favorite selections are the high-octane "Waiting on the Sun to Shine" (another winner from the prolific pens of Tom T. and Dixie Hall), "I've Lived a Lot in My Time" (with its effective key changes) and a straight-ahead arrangement of "Iron Mountain Line" (with the sound and soul of music that would make Bill Monroe smile with satisfaction). Several other highlights include the twin fiddles in "Veil of White Lace," and "I've Lived a Lot in My Time"; the guitar work in "Why Don't You Tell Me So'; the harmony lines in "Poor Old Cora," and the Fred Rose classic, "Deep Water"; and the banjo work in a haunting "Knoxville Boy." On a five-point scale of traditional bluegrass excellence this recording merits a five.

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