Bryan Sutton, Not too Far From the Tree: Four Stars
• Genre(s): Acoustic bluegrass.
• You’ll like it if: You see nothing confrontational about two guitars dueling for an hour.
• Defining song: “Ragtime Annie” — Bryan Sutton’s duet with David Grier sounds like two foxes trying to outwit one another. Sutton remarked in the liner notes that “[Playing with Grier] wasn’t any fun at all.” It seems Sutton is equally adept at sarcasm.
Waynesville-born Bryan Sutton has a picking pedigree that even the big-timers would envy. Nicknamed “Bionic Bryan,” the feisty-fingered session player has performed on Grammy-winning albums with Ricky Skaggs and the Dixie Chicks. He’s also performed with the who’s who of bluegrass, including Bela Fleck and Jerry Douglas, and he’s basically monopolized the IBMA Guitar Player of the Year award with honors in 2000, 2003, 2004, and 2005. His third solo album invites all his influences, peers and friends for a friendly wood-shedding. For an unrefined approach, Bryan (when possible) went to the homes of each performer with a mobile recording rig.
The album holds no surprises: It promises 14 instrumental duets, and that’s exactly what the listener gets. Despite the absence of a musical ambush, the wealth of talent on this CD makes the album shine like polished platinum. Folks like Doc Watson, Tony Rice, Norman Blake, and even Bryan’s father, Jerry, appear. Although the format stays the course, the ears will alight with each strum. Yes, fellow mortals, the guitar gods are upon us.
Seth Kauffman and the Real Mothers at Barleys; Thursday, April 13: Four Stars
• Genre(s): Funk, soul, indie.
• Be glad you stayed home if: Sorry, I can’t think of a reason to have stayed home.
• Defining moment: All of the second set. As the diners cleared out of Barley’s, Kauffman — borrowing heavily from his monumental album, Ting — settled into his lo-fi shine. Bathroom breaks became nonexistent in fear of missing the soul spilling off the stage.
Seth Kauffman’s self-described “lo-fi North Carolina funk” has one foot entrenched on a desolate Jamaican beach and the other in some cavernous bar where Chess Records play constantly on the jukebox. Seth’s guitar tone — reminiscent of Motown with Beck sneaking in the back door — has that sort of sound that most axe men search for in vain all their life. The vocals were at times indecipherable (due in part to lack of a sound man), and most of the crowd never glanced away from their precious pizza and beer. However, the Real Mothers (with Tyler Ramsey and drummer Evan Martin) played like the crowd was sequestered in the palm of their hand. The chemistry between Kauffman and Ramsey — who played everything from the bass to the melodica — seemed like it originated in the same womb. The only sad moment was the realization that the rest of the country will soon be turned on to this sound.
[When he’s not bending readers to his will, Hunter Pope cooks, gardens, hikes and spends his mortgage money on CDs he’s never heard.]