(To read this review at the Bluegrass Unlimited website, click on the masthead above.)
Maro Kawabata is a superb guitarist, and he chooses others with superb voices—Don Rigsby, Andy Ball, Patty Mitchell, Richard Bennett—to sing on his solo album. Sunset Drive is a collection of modern, straight ahead bluegrass delivered with feeling while maintaining a somewhat understated profile. His fellow pickers seemed more relaxed than reigned in, but those seeking high voltage might be underwhelmed. I’m not. This is satisfying, beautiful stuff.
Keith Little’s “The Gift,” nicely sung by Mitchell, is a good example of Kawabata’s music that is emotionally charged while never breaking a sweat or pushing into desperation. Even the instrumentals (five out of a total of twelve tracks), often the part of an album where players let it fly, sustain this mood, sharing more with the classic tradition of “Wildwood Flower” than “Wheel Hoss.” Each is a gem, and his players know how to get the most out of a tune without stepping over the line Kawabata draws. Relative to much of their work elsewhere, Wyatt Rice, Rickie Simpkins, Sammy Shelor, Adam Steffey, and Ronnie Rice pull back, but don’t pull away, and they have helped Kawabata create a successful disc that only sounds better with repeated hearings. (FGM Records, P.O. Box 2160, Pulaski, VA 24301, www.fgmrecords.com.) DR [David Royko]