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The Larry Stephenson Band

Two Hearts On The Borderline – 2000 (Pinecastle)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by The Larry Stephenson Band

Say "bluegrass," and the first word that's likely to enter most people's minds is "banjo," but equally important in the history and development of Bill Monroe's musical experiment over the last half-century and more has been the distinctive tenor vocal style - literally, the "high" in "high lonesome." Although not everyone's cup of tea, even those who don't care for it would probably agree that it's a style of singing that's extraordinarily difficult to do for a short time, let alone an entire career. For nearly 20 years, as a sideman for Bill Harrell, a member of the Bluegrass Cardinals, and leader of his own band, Larry Stephenson has been one of the relatively few successful bluegrass tenors.

With possibly the most talented configuration of his band behind him, Stephenson continues to exemplify the career bluegrass professional. The instrumental work, while not overly flashy, is well-arranged and well-performed. Kristin Scott, in particular, is rock-solid on banjo. The strength, though, is the harmony work between Stephenson, bassist Mickey Harris, and guest artist Jeff Autry. Hot banjos are fine, but good bluegrass hinges on the vocals, and Stephenson still has the knack for that.