After doing one thing for 40 years, you either get really good or you die. Larry Sparks refers to himself as “The youngest of the old-timers,” and on his latest, he delivers bluegrass that even Bill Monroe would call “powerful good.”
Here, Sparks is joined by a galaxy of bluegrass luminaries, including Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss, Dan Tyminski, Rhonda Vincent, Carl Jackson, Larry Cordle, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Kenny Smith, Tim Stafford, Jim Hurst, Chris Jones, and Ronnie Bowman. Core band members on many of the tunes include Larry D. Sparks on bass, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Randy Kohrs on dobro, and David Harvey on mandolin. Producer Don Rigsby joins in for an occasional harmony vocal and contributes insightful album notes.
Tunes on 40 cover the gambit from hell-raisers such as a rousing version of “Blues Stay Away From Me” to gospel tunes such as “I Need Jesus.” In between there are Larry Sparks classics such as “Tennessee 1949,” John Deere Tractor,” and “City Folks Call Us Poor.” My favorite cut, “The New Highway,” has Sparks singing lead, tenor, and baritone parts, as well as playing guitar. David Harvey’s mandolin and Larry D. Sparks’ bass complete the roster for the final song on this stunning CD.
40 ranks as a essential bluegrass. If you consider yourself a fan, you’ve got to have a copy.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s May. ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.