Saturday, August 16, 2008

Tony Rice - California Autumn (1975)

California Autumn is a bit of a sleeper in the Tony Rice catalogue. The album presents many different sides of Tony, as he was defining his style in the mid 1970s. We hear the singer-songwriter (“California Autumn”), the interpretive singer (“Georgia on My Mind”), the traditional bluegrass artist (“Good Woman’s Love,” “You Don’t Know My Mind”), and the innovative flatpicker (“Red Haired Boy”). Tony has rarely sang better than he does on this album and his talents as a vocalist more than make up for his limitations as a songwriter. I think the album’s biggest flaw is that it simply doesn’t flow very well.

The guitar playing on California Autumn is as solid as you would expect, though John Starling's production is rather flat when compared to Tony's later albums. I think the instrumental with the best picking is probably “Red Haired Boy,” which includes many of Tony’s trademark licks and is a staple of his live performances. Side A of the original LP ends with an excellent cover of Bill Monroe’s “Good Woman’s Love,” which features nice harmony vocals from Ricky Skaggs and a slight change to the melody that suits the song well.

Tony is backed on this recording by Seldom Scene members Tom Gray, Mike Auldridge, and Ben Eldridge, and this gives it a bit of a Seldom Scene vibe, particularly with the distinctive dobro playing of Mike Auldridge ringing throughout each tune. Despite the fact that Tony recorded better music with super-pickers like Sam Bush, David Grisman, and Jerry Douglas, this line-up is intriguing for its uniqueness when compared to the rest of Tony’s albums. Basically, California Autumn sounds like Tony sitting in with the Seldom Scene and the overall feel is softer and less jazz-oriented than a session with Bush, Douglas and/or David Grisman would have been. Regardless of the fact that Tony achieved greater heights a few years later, California Autumn is an enjoyable listen and is well worth owning.

AMG Rating: ***
My Rating: ***1/2

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