Black Music Matters Festival

Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver

A School of Bluegrass – 2004 (Crossroads)

Reviewed by Brad San Martin

While his past few albums have found singer/bandleader/mandolinist Doyle Lawson exploring terrain closer to southern gospel, this career-spanning two-CD anthology is a potent reminder of his estimable and increasingly influential contributions to contemporary bluegrass. While Ralph Stanley and others may have first experimented with fusing four-part gospel-style singing to bluegrass rhythms, Lawson made his mark by employing vocal arrangements more influenced more by intricately smooth gospel quartets (both black and white) than by rugged Appalachian church music. Upon emerging in the late 1970s, Quicksilver was a revelation: rapid-fire vocal exchanges welded to equally nimble instrumental support to form a new breed of vocal-driven bluegrass.

Over the past quarter century, a host of fine musicians have passed through the ranks of Quicksilver, hence the title of this compilation. Case in point: two of today's premier bluegrass vocal groups, Mountain Heart and IIIrd Tyme Out, were essentially Quicksilver spinoffs.

Drawn from entirely unreleased live recordings, outtakes, and rehearsal tapes, this is an ideal compliment to Lawson's recorded legacy while being comprehensive and enjoyable enough to neophytes. From unadorned a cappella gospel to convincingly re-imagined version of bluegrass standards, Lawson's vision is clear and compelling across 50 tracks and 13 distinct incarnations of Quicksilver. While sound quality is variable, the historic and musical importance of these recordings simply cannot be denied.