Once upon a time, hotshot instrumentalists like Wayne Benson were happy to sit on the sidelines, sprucing up vocal tracks by a known performer. Who wanted an instrumental album, anyway? But in 2002, some 25 years after the David Grisman Quintet and the Tony Rice Unit blazed the new acoustic trail, Sugar Hill, Pinecastle, and other labels have been more than willing to issue instrumental music. Unlike the pioneers listed above, mandolinist Benson and his partners in crime stick closer to tradition. Free-flowing tunes like "Tucker" and "Tillery Cove" soar high but never fly out of orbit thanks to strains of backwoods bluegrass and Celtic airs. Benson's joined by a long list of friends that include banjoist Scott Vestal, guitarist Jeff Autry, and fiddler Jim VanCleve for a dozen tastefully arranged and executed tracks. The fact that this album consists of nothing but instrumental tracks is a feat in itself; too often, it seems, a guest vocalist is used to help sell the album. Instead, Benson just does what he's good at, scorching a trail on "Carpenter John" and taking it slow and easy on the nearly seven-minute "Spagnum Peat." With its no-frills, straightforward picking, An Instrumental Anthology should inspire novices and satisfy any bluegrass fan who can't say no to beautifully played music.
AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.