Black Music Matters Festival

Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver

In Session – 2015 (Mountain Home)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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The phrase "sounds like a broken record" probably doesn't mean much to anyone too young to have experienced the skips and pops of a 33 1/3 rpm record that's been left out too long, and while the connotation is inherently negative, it can have its positive aspects. Doyle Lawson has been turning out albums for more than four decades, and reviewers have tended to get a "stuck in the groove" feeling in trying to describe over and over again why he continues to be just about the most reliable craftsman the bluegrass business has yet known. Like virtually all its predecessors, "In Session" is a textbook example of, as the album cover phrases it, "Reading, 'Riting and Rhythm."

His current version of Quicksilver is as unfailingly solid instrumentally as ever, and in producing himself as he has for years, Lawson again provides a variety of arrangements making for a tapestry that thoroughly counters and discredits the longtime complaint (usually from people who don't listen to the music with much regularity) that "all bluegrass sounds the same." A major factor in this is that Lawson is the acknowledged master of bluegrass harmony, having recruited dozens of talented vocalists who go on to form their own successful bands, leaving him to find and bring in fresh, new talent. To paraphrase the old sports metaphor, Lawson doesn't rebuild, he just reloads.

Although the album does not include one of Lawson's trademark a capella quartets, there are a number of outstanding ensemble tracks, such as "I Told Them All About You" (by Cliff Friend, best known in country music as the writer of Hank Williams' iconic "Lovesick Blues") and "Calling All Her Children Home," co-written by Carl Jackson. Lawson has long shown the knack for looking outside bluegrass and country for tunes that suit him, and the prime example here is "You, You, You," an early-1950s pop hit by the Ames Brothers (pretty good experts at harmony themselves).

Also of interest and regard is the sole instrumental, "Evening Prayer Blues," a traditional number popularized by Bill Monroe. Typically done as a mandolin/guitar duet, Dawson substitutes his Dobro player Josh Swift in place of guitar for a haunting and distinctive take on the song. Maybe Lawson intends it as a sly, good-natured dig at Monroe's reputed disdain for the Dobro, maybe not. Whatever the motivation, it's another strong thread in the fabric of yet another Doyle Lawson gem.