Since Valentine’s Day is coming up, I decided to select a great album which you and your honey can enjoy while heading to your reservations at Waffle House. (Don’t believe me? WH is actually taking reservations for candlelit fancy steak dinners this Valentine’s Day, but that’s beside the point.)
One of the most relaxing and soothing albums of all time is Tony Rice’s Me and My Guitar. Anytime I want to put on some music to help me unwind, I grab this old favorite. And who better to serenade your sweetie on Valentine’s Day than Tony Rice?
Me and My Guitar was released in 1986. It is Rice’s first solo endeavor following Cold On The Shoulder (he and the Bluegrass Album Band had released a couple of albums in between this time period.) Although Cold On The Shoulder and Me and My Guitar are only three years apart, Me and My Guitar has a decidedly different feel. Creatively, I feel that Rice is in his prime. On this album, he successfully manages to mix influences from bluegrass, jazz, and folk harmoniously, creating a masterpiece which has something for everyone.
The album kicks off with its title track, a timeless James Taylor song, which sounds as if JT wrote it specifically for Rice. Few musicians epitomize their instrument as much as Rice, and this song fits him like a glove. In addition to Rice’s stellar singing and bluesy guitar licks on this song, Mark Schatz’s jazzy bass and Sam Bush’s signature mandolin bolster this track’s power.
Speaking of Rice’s iconic Martin guitar, it is on full display on the album’s two instrumental tunes – which happen to be the only songs on the album written by Rice: Port Tobacco and Tipper. Port Tobacco is the jazzier of the two, and has bit of a Manzanita feel to it. Rice named the tune after George A. Atzerdot, a man who was unjustly executed in association with Lincoln Assassination. Atzerdot ran a ferry in Port Tobacco, Maryland.
Tipper is a bit more traditional, and receives its namesake from one of Rice’s dogs. Rice feels that this one could fall into the category his colleague David Grisman calls “Dawg” music! (Assume the pun was intended.)
One of the most powerful performances of Ian Tyson’s magnificent Four Strong Winds appears on this record. It’s the first track on the album to feature Cole Burgess on the soprano saxophone. I mentioned earlier that this album incorporates some jazz elements, and the sax is just one example of this along with the piano and percussion, just to name a few.
By far the jazziest and most progressive song on the album is heard when Rice decides to take on Bob Dylan’s Sweetheart Like You. The only “bluegrass” instruments on the song are Rice’s guitar and Schatz’s bass. Joined by Burgess on the soprano saxophone, Bill Wolf on the piano, and Larry Atamanuik on drums and percussion, the ensemble makes this a real surprise. It’s not bluegrass, but it’s not bad. Great even!
Another song which features the jazz ensemble, but not as front and center is Bob Franke’s Hard Love. Bill Wolfe’s beautiful piano is the key instrumentation to this piece. This song paints a beautiful picture of love and some of its not-so-lovely aspects. A truly majestic song; don’t let this one fly under of your radar.
It is commonly known that Gordon Lightfoot is Tony Rice’s favorite songwriter, and if you didn’t know it, you’ll quickly find out by picking up this album. Me and My Guitar features FIVE Gordon Lightfoot originals: Walls, Early Morning Rain, Sixteen Miles, Song For A Winter’s Night, and Fine As Fine Can Be. For the sake of my time and your attention span, I will only focus on only two.
In addition to Lightfoot, everyone from Tim O’Brien to Mac Wiseman has covered Early Morning Rain. It’s hard to find a version as beautiful as Rice’s; it seems so effortless and natural. The lyrics have a way of simply flowing from his mouth. You can hear the tears in his voice. Masterful recordings like this are what separates Rice from many bluegrass singers. Jerry Douglas’ dobro work on this song is also terrific, and provides an excellent complement to Rice’s voice.
Last, but certainly not least, the album closes with Lightfoot’s Fine As Fine Can Be. To my mind, this is one of the most touching love songs ever written. The simplicity of its phrasing makes it brilliant, so that anyone can comprehend the message. The great lines from this tune are too many to count, but any one of them could cause your Valentine to melt into your arms. If you close your date with this one, you will definitely be ending the night with a goodnight kiss!
Tony Rice’s Me and My Guitar is one of my favorite albums (I am talking Top Two status. It’s THAT good). It has something for everyone, making it truly a timeless album. It sounds just as groundbreaking and fresh today as it did over twenty-five years ago, crossing so many genres, and is responsible for many bluegrass fans’ “conversions” to the one true faith. It serves as a testament to why we should always be willing to acknowledge good “bluegrass-friendly” recordings, whether they are straight grass or not.
Me and My Guitar (ROUNDER CD 0201) can be purchased from the Classic Country Connection and County Sales. It can also be downloaded digitally from iTunes and Amazon Music. If you are in need of a great soundtrack for Valentine’s Day, whether your date is a bluegrass fan or not, neither of you will be disappointed with this Tony Rice gem!