Bryan Sutton is on everyone’s short list of top flatpick guitarists, something that has made him Nashville’s #1 call for recording and short term tour work. This has given him a stable career and a fairly normal home life, by most professional musicians’ standards.
But it also means that his many admirers have precious little opportunity to hear him out front, performing his own music.
Sugar Hill has another of those rare glimpses into Sutton as a spotlight artist with a new CD, Almost Live, due for release on July 14. The title comes from the concept for the album – to get together in the studio with the several groups with whom Bryan has toured in recent years, and capture the informal and sometimes extemporaneous character of a live show.
These include the occasional Hot Rize reunions, Punch Brothers, and Béla Fleck (and his Acoustic Planet band). Each is featured on at least one track, along with a trio of duets with Fleck, Russ Barrenberg and Chris Thile. Not too shabby, eh?
As always, Sutton’s tone is gorgeous – large and round – and while it is clearly his album, the tunes (and songs) dictate the arrangements. In other words, it’s not a “guitar album.” Most of the materials falls squarely within the bluegrass/newgrass/Americana category, with one track that showcases Bryan’s more recent fascination with gypsy swing music.
Sutton wrote the bulk of the tunes, with a Norman Blake classic (Church Street Blues with Hot Rize) and a Delmore Brothers chestnut (Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar with Thile) included for a bit of vocal relief. Choosing standouts is a daunting chore given the high caliber of music and musicianship throughout, but here are a few that grabbed my attention.
Big Island Hornpipe is a co-write with Thile which Bryan says the two of them finished while he was touring with Chris’ How To Grow A Band. Sutton filled in with them on shows when their ultimate guitarist Chris Eldridge was still working with The Infamous Stringdusters. It’s quite a romp!
Rye Straw Suite finds Sutton in duet with B?©la Fleck, with whom he wrote the tune.
Loretta’s Waltz is a lovely melody which Bryan wrote and named for his wife. The execution, with Dennis Crouch on bass, Aubrie Haynie on fiddle and Jeff Taylor on accordion, is restrained and quite powerful.
Be on the lookout for Almost Live folks – if you care about virtuosic instrumental acoustic music, that is. And why wouldn’t you?