Like many budding performers, Tony Rook acquired his appreciation for music early on. He was initially enticed after watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. He picked up his first guitar at age 12. His parents, who performed at their church’s Sunday school services, and his uncle, a Baptist preacher who played professionally, all encouraged him to pursue his interest further. Rock and roll lured him early on, but an abiding love of bluegrass always helped steer his ongoing interest. He later performed with several folk and bluegrass bands, among them, The Eno Ramblers, who, released a CD in 2000 titled Labor of Love, an album that boasted all original tunes.
Rook, a proficient songwriter in his own right, cites such influences as Tony Rice, Bryan Sutton, Earl Scruggs, Tony Trischka and Béla Fleck. He released his first solo album, The Road Back Home, in 2016, but Reflections, the initial effort by his eponymous ensemble, provides an excellent opportunity to expand his fan base. The band – consisting of Rook (guitar), Brent Fuqua (mandolin), Graham Sones (banjo), Terry Johnson (bass) and special guest Tom Schaefer (fiddle) – all contribute vocals to a set of songs that primarily consist of Rook’s originals. Still, a cover of Cheap Trick’s I Want You To Want Me certainly provides the biggest surprise, but credit the band with transitioning the song from its robust rock origins to a barnstorming bluegrass track that loses little in translation.
Then again, it fits the flow of the album overall. Reflections remains an effusive outing from beginning to end, from the celebratory sounds of Kentucky Girl, Thief in the Night, You’re Always Coming Back To Me, and I Used To Live About a Mile From Here to the sweeter sentiments of Oklahoma Rain, The Man I Am Today and When I Go. Rook and company are obviously adept at playing their instrumental arrangements, but it’s the mix of melodies that allow these songs to stand out. Rook’s When Blue Turned To Gray, a tangled tale about a man convicted of killing his wife’s illicit lover, offers an ideal example of the band’s decided folk finesse.
There’s no doubt that today’s bluegrass scene offers a crowded field of competition. Credit Tony Rook Band for making their own emphatic impression.