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The Tony Rice Unit

Unit of Measure – 2000 (Rounder)

Reviewed by Jonathan Colcord

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CDs by The Tony Rice Unit

Tony Rice hasn't been heard from in awhile, but he's still got it. Balanced between fast and slow instrumentals, Rice showcases his last "Unit" as much as his own playing in a recording Rice himself considers among his best ever. Curious however is the age of these tracks, with only one song, "An Olde Irish Aire (Danny Boy)" being of truly recent vintage. The balance were mostly recorded in late 1996, while a live barn-burning version of "Sally Goodin" was done in early 1993.

The band - brother Wyatt on second guitar, Rickie Simpkins on fiddle, Jimmy Gaudreau on mandolin and Ronnie Simpkins on the bass - is now mostly dissolved. The highlight is the new rendition of Rice's 1970's concept, banjo-less bluegrass piece "Manzanita." It is retitled here as "Manzanita ('st Variation)" and will delight fans of that early work.

This album leans more toward Rice's bluegrass roots than the jazz arrangements of his "spacegrass" work. Included are the blues standard "House of the Rising Sun," Bill Monroe's "Gold Rush," and "Jerusalem Ridge," as well as the live "Sally Goodin."

The balance are Rice's more ethereal and melodic translations of works such as "Shenandoah," closely echoed later by his take on "An Olde Irish Aire." More beautiful than the title might imply is a take on the movie theme "High Noon." Also included are Django Reinhardt's "Swing 42," and a nice version of "Beaumont Rag." Highly detailed notes are provided behind each track by Rice, that will delight guitar players, as well as a superb profile and history of this band by Scott Alarik. The notes also bear the good news that new vocal work from Rice may be in the future. For now, revel in the fact that there is finally a new offering from the Tony Rice Unit.