Larry Sparks

The Coldest Part of Winter

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It seems apt to release Larry Sparks' The Coldest Part of Winter in the middle of February. It's also an interesting coincidence that the Virginia-based Rebel released the album during the 2002-2003 season, one of the coldest Southern winters in recent history. One imagines a certain comforting warmth, however, in a new album by one of bluegrass' most steady hands. Listeners will not find anything radically different on Sparks' latest outing, and that is as it should be. Instead, listeners will find what they've come to expect: fine picking, vibrant vocals, and a lyrical emphasis on the values of the past. Mandolinist Scott Napier, banjoist Josh McMurray, bassist Matthew Madden, and fiddler Michael Cleveland join Sparks for a dozen traditionally based songs/instrumentals. Most of these pieces, like "Leavin' Me" and "This Old Road," only run for two to three minutes, meaning that the emphasis is placed on the songs themselves and that the instrumental accompaniment primarily works to underline the songs. This leaves Sparks' voice, which is as fine and steady as always, front and center on lovely pieces like "Winter in Miami" and "Let's Turn Back the Clock." For Southerners and traditional bluegrass lovers suffering from cabin fever, The Coldest Part of Winter should provide just the right tonic.

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