If there’s any doubt that Hot Rize was one of the hottest, tightest, most tastefully talented bands in the country during their two-plus decades together, all qualms will disappear after experiencing them on this live album recorded in 1996 with the late Charles Sawtelle. Playing before hometown fans at the Boulder Theater apparently gave them an extra shot of adrenaline, inspiring them to surpass even their usual high-octane brand of music.
This is pure Hot Rize, no Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers here. Don’t feel short-changed, though. The twenty tracks selected for “So Long Of A Journey” are so engaging, presenting such a perfect package from start to finish, that listeners will find themselves completely satisfied when the final note fades and the disc spins to a quiet stop.
Album highlights are numerous and varied. Classic band originals include Pete Wernick’s “Just Like You” and Tim O’Brien’s “Walk The Way The Wind Blows.” Then someone in the audience calls out for “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and off they go on the ever-popular Scruggs staple. A couple of “blues” tunes are included–Empty Pocket Blues” and “Frank’s Blues–but they’re such joyously energetic instrumentals that they should be called “happiness” instead of “blues.” Looking for some boogie? “Radio Boogie” and “Walkin’ The Dog” are always fun, while the traditional “Working On A Building” and “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning” fill the gospel slots.
Dedicated to Sawtelle, liner notes contain black-and-white band photos as well as stories and memories from surviving members Wernick, O’Brien, and Nick Forster–a touching way to honor a beloved friend and colleague. Sawtelle’s guitar work is featured prominently throughout the album, and its uniquely rich fullness is somehow both empowering and soothing at the same time. Kevin Clock’s mixing of this album, in fact, is boldly thoughtful, with all lead instruments coming through loud and clear – no faint this or mushy that, just a complete band sound that fills your living room today as powerfully as it filled the concert hall six years ago. The live format spotlights the music yet still imparts a welcoming feeling of participation; emcee work is kept to a minimum, introducing songs and band members without taking time away from the show.
If you missed Hot Rize while they were still touring, this CD could be your best introduction to a legendary, groundbreaking band. If you’re already a Hot Rize fan, you know what’s in store.
March 9, 2002
PRODUCERS: Nick Forster, Peter Wernick Sugar Hill 3943
Formed in the late 1970s, progressive bluegrass outfit Hot Rize reconvened for a celebrated run of dates in 1996, including a two-night stand at the Boulder (Cob.) Theater from which this album was compiled. Made up of picking titans Tim O’Brien (mandolin, fiddle), Nick Forster (bass), Pete Wernick (banjo), and the late Charles Sawtelle (guitar), Hot Rize was playing its first live dates in six years at the time, and the renewed vigor shows. Tighter than bark on a tree, Hot Rize tears it up and pleases the crowd on such cuts as the high lonesome “Blue Night,” the call-and-response “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning,” and runaway trains like “Frank’s Blues” and “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” While each member dazzles, Sawtelle’s fearless guitar work is often the glue that holds this together, particularly on such gems as “The Butcher’s Dog” and the rambunctious “Empty Pocket Blues.” Totally impressive. –RW
COUNTY SALES NEWSLETTER
HOT RIZE “So Long Of A Journey”
What a pleasure it is to hear a record like this gem – a live album that is just about perfect in every way. It is a generous sampling of the very best that this unique Colorado based band had to offer, well-recorded before a very enthusiastic crowd in Boulder, Colorado in 1996. (It was a reunion tour for the band, which had played full-time for 12 years from 1978 to 1990). It reminds us just how special this group was 4 dynamic, gifted and entertaining musicians who as a group were even more than the sum of all the parts, and could please the heavily traditional fan as well as contemporary audiences. Someone (probably Nick Forster & Pe-ter Wernick) did a superb job in editing down two shows into one super-charged album of 20 songs & tunes, not a weak one in the lot. Tim O’Brien’s singing is great, the arrangements are first-rate and the group is tight as a drum as it performs a variety of excellent songs including O’Brien’s NELLIE KANE and WALK THE WAY THE WIND BLOWS, Ola Belle Reed’s HIGH ON A MOUN-TAIN, Hazel Dickens’ wonderful WON’T YOU COME & SING FOR ME and the great Pete Goble classic COLLEEN MALONE. Wonderful music, a bargain, a great souvenir – this gets our HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.