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Hot Rize
So Long a Journey

Review by Steven Stone
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Hot Rize So Long a Journey

CD Stock Number: Sugarhill Records SUG-CD-3943


  Hot Rize stopped being a regular working band in 1991. After that time they did short summer tours until Charles Sawtelle’s death in the summer of 2000. This live concert CD was made in 1996 at the Boulder Theater during one of these summer sojourns. It shows why Hot Rize were one of the finest live bluegrass bands ever to don suits and their signature flashy ties. In the words of Charles Sawtelle "If you look sharp, you are sharp."

Dedicated to the memory of Charles Sawtelle, it showcases Charles’ unique guitar playing. His genius lay in putting together solos that at first seemed destined for disaster. Charles delighted in painting himself into a musical corner and then miraculously pulling out a perfect recovery in the last two or three bars. His solo on "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning" starts off behind the beat, slows down to the point of rhythmic collapse, but miraculously concludes in perfect time. His 1937 Martin D-28's bass notes are like cannon shots that always hit their targets.

Tim O'Brien has the most fluid elastic voice in Bluegrass music. Like Charles’ guitar solos, Tim seems to delight in seeing just how far outside he can go without crashing and burning. On Bill Monroe’s "Blue Night" he pulls off vocal filigrees that would sound excessive from anyone else. In contrast to Charles and Tim’s pyrotechnics Peter Wernick’s banjo and Nick Forster’s bass are rock steady musical bulwarks. Pete Wernick, known as "Dr. Banjo," is one of the cleanest, most precise banjo pickers ever to wield a bunch of fingerpicks. On "Radio Boogie"he shows that in the right hands even a banjo can swing. Nick Forster’s bass playing always sounds so effortless. Perfectly in the center of the beat, he gives Hot Rize a solid rhythmic grounding. His back-up vocals shadow and enhance Tim O'Brien's leads so flawlessly that you’d swear they were born singing together.

Engineers Mike Grace (whose company makes the best microphone preamps in the universe), and Mickey Houlihan (owner of Wind Over the Earth, the place to purchase cutting-edge pro audio gear) did a fabulous job capturing the live sound of the Boulder Theater. Mixing engineer Kevin Clock and mastering engineer David Glasser put the final sonic touches on the disc. It sounds just like I remember it live in the hall. The album notes even include what brand of microphone was used on each instrument if you’d like to try to duplicate this sound at home.

Is this the best live bluegrass album in the universe? I think so. But I’m more than slightly favorably biased about this new CD. Not only was I present at these particular concerts, but I also made all the photographs on the CD. Perhaps you should just hear So Long a Journey for yourself and form your own opinion. But if you don’t love it you're in need of serious remedial musical therapy.



Enjoyment: 95

Sound Quality: 95











































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