Larry Sparks has been the real deal for years now. What I mean by that statement is that he is his own self, a bluegrasser with an original style who, at times, has a personality that is right peculiar in the best sense of that word.
And, like Monroe and Crowe and others, he is a lover of the blues side of bluegrass music. On this new album, Almost Home, Sparks performs a wonderful array of songs that also showcases some of his best guitar work in years.
Joining Sparks on this album is his son Larry D. Sparks on bass, Carl Berggren on mandolin, and Tyler Mullins on banjo. Rounding out the project are the tenor vocals of Don Rigsby and Jeff Brown and the stellar fiddle work of Ron Stewart.
Sparks has a unique ability to perform songs that hearken back to a simpler time, the song “John Deere Tractor” being the perfect example. The title cut, written by Michael Keith and David Lindsey, who co-write four songs on the album, has that same feel. “Momma’s Apron Strings,” penned by Shawn Lane and Gerald Ellenburg, features Sparks’ distinctive voice on lines such as: [Momma] used it to bring in apples, in the fall of the year, carried sweet corn that she grew, which made it look a little used, but to me there wasn’t nothing Momma’s apron couldn’t do. They don’t use them quite as much today, but we sure could use them to wipe some tears away.
Sparks also does a wonderful rendition of “Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On.” I thought of the Dean Martin version, but Larry Nager’s excellent liner notes remind us that Hank Locklin first had a hit with it in 1957. And, the new Sparks instrumental called “Back Road” is smoking. (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.) DH