Review: Hunter Berry, Wow Baby

Richard Thompson reviews a CD from the Spring of 2007 that he wishes he had written much sooner.

Hunter Berry - Wow BabyHunter Berry, a native of Elizabethton, in the foothills of eastern Tennessee, began playing the fiddle at the age of nine, learning partly under the tutelage of old-time bluegrass fiddler Benny Sims. Berry has learned his craft very well.

More recently he had played with Melvin Goins and Doyle Lawson before joining Rhonda Vincent & The Rage in 2002. He has won SPBGMA fiddle awards for four consecutive years and has been nominated for the IBMA award on two occasions, demonstrating that fans and peers rate his playing highly.

Lawson leads a select group of musicians who form the band backing Berry along with Tony Rice (rhythm guitar, mostly), Ronnie Stewart – playing banjo – and Darrin Vincent (bass and harmony vocals), offering further proof of the esteem in which Hunter Berry is held. Other notables in the mix here and there are Adam Steffey, Randy Kohrs, Dan Tyminski and Jason Carter.

Arranged to showcase the fiddler, Wow Baby (the title tune and opening track) is an apt response to how Berry plays on this CD. It sets the standard and the bar is set high and kept up there throughout.

There are seven instrumentals in all, some traditional pieces like Leather Britches performed as a classic fiddle/banjo duet with that master of all instruments, Ronnie Stewart, Ragtime Annie, with a full five-piece band, and Kansas City Kitty with the great Bob Moore anchoring this sassy swing number which features a second fiddle, played by Buddy Spicher, and Buck White on piano and Bryan Sutton (guitar).

The balance are all vocal pieces with a variety of singers; two feature Keith Williams, the first of which, In The Pines, has Berry overdubbing a further two fiddle parts, one with Marty Stuart and Bobby Osborne – I’m Waiting To Hear You Call Me Darlin’, Sally Sandker (Rhonda’s daughter) demonstrating that she has a good set of pipes on Blue Kentucky Girl, another triple fiddle piece – this also has Sally’s uncle singing harmony – and Rhonda Vincent with Sonya Isaacs harmonize on the driving bluegrass number Hard Living. The fiddle work on each is stellar, artfully tailored to suit the relevant vocalist.

For me two tunes Waltz For Mom And Dad, a second Hunter Berry composition, and Ragtime Annie, juxtaposed as tracks seven and eight, demonstrate the finesse, the power and drive that Berry brings to the world of the bluegrass fiddle.

Wow Baby was nominated for both the IBMA Instrumental Album of the Year and Recorded Event of the Year awards last year and I can understand why it is so highly rated. You won’t get any argument from me as far as quality is concerned.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.