One of the great things about bluegrass is that it has a memory. People who played then are celebrated now, and the music that was made then is still relevant now. And people like Larry Sparks provide some proof of that. His first real gig was playing guitar for Ralph Stanley in 1966 after the passing of Carter. Just think of that. The Stanley Brothers are in the first generation of bluegrass, and to some extent formed what bluegrass is today. And Larry Sparks was there, more or less, and here he is, fifty years later, still doing it, and still turning ears.
Lonesome and Then Some … is of course a play on the name of Larry’s band, the Lonesome Ramblers—the music here includes the Lonesome Ramblers who are joined by a number of guest musicians. Those musicians are telling, too: he could have filled the album with younger people, or more famous people, but he didn’t. He invited Curly Seckler to sing tenor on “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke,” joined on the track by Bobby Osborne. Just think of that—a new track, recorded this year, includes principle musicians from the Stanley Brothers, the Osborne Brothers, and Flatt and Scruggs. You don’t need to know that—it’s a great song all on it’s own—but there is something great about all that other stuff going on.
Another lovely moment—and there are lots of them on this disc—is Judy Marshall, Alison Krauss, and Sparks trading lead and harmony vocals on “Going up Home to Live in Green Pastures.” It’s just great music, and all egos appear to have been left at the door. We know the song—Emmylou Harris included it on her fantastic Roses in the Snow—but this new recording is haunting.
Indeed, that’s how the entire album is constructed. As music it stands on its own, but dig a bit deeper, and it’s rich with memory. Ralph Stanley sings on “Loving you Too Well” and the album ends with an unreleased recording of Sparks with Bill Monroe on “In the Pines.” The track opens with with Monroe, speaking away from the mic saying that “Larry Sparks is ready!” They sing it as a duet, and if you feel you never need to hear “In the Pines” again as long as you live, you’re wrong. You need to hear this one.
Lonesome and Then Some … is billed as a 50th anniversary celebration of Sparks’ career, and for him that’s what it is. For us it’s a thoughtful, graceful, dignified tour through an approach to making music that defines bluegrass itself. As such, it’s a celebration of a lot more than just Sparks himself.