At a time when many bluegrass performers were drawn into the newgrass revival of the 1970s, Doyle Lawson was moving back in time, deeper into tradition. Whether working within secular or gospel bluegrass, Lawson gained a reputation for heading top-notch bands capable of tight musicianship and even tighter harmony. While Lawson has been properly singled out as an outstanding musician, his work has been defined within a group setting. Whether one mentions his secular recordings or his well-respected a cappella gospel recordings, it is the strength of Lawson and the players he has surrounded himself with that defines both styles. Best of the Sugar Hill Years captures Lawson in a number of settings from 1979 through 2001, offering an excellent overview of his work. Because Lawson sticks to his bluegrass and gospel roots, the collection holds together well despite the 23 years between "He Put a Rainbow in the Clouds for Me" and "My Beautiful Home." Perhaps the highlight, and the element that most sticks out in Lawson's career, is the a cappella harmony that graces songs like "When the Sun of My Life Goes Down" and "Climbing Up the Mountain." In both cases, four-part harmony provides a rich sonic listening experience, whether one adheres to the fundamentalist-based lyrics or not. Best of the Sugar Hill Years is a good introduction to one of bluegrass' finest traditional artists.
Best of the Sugar Hill Years Review
by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.