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Wyatt Rice & Santa Cruz

Picture in a Tear – 1996 (Rounder)

Reviewed by George Hauenstein

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CDs by Wyatt Rice & Santa Cruz

In a year that has seen Bill Monroe and John Duffey, two of bluegrass music's icons, pass away, it's refreshing to hear young bands like Wyatt Rice and Santa Cruz carrying on the art form. "Santa Cruz" has its feet firmly rooted in bluegrass tradition, but with a style and sound all its own. Super guitaris Rice cut his musical teeth in his older brother's band, The Tony Rice Unit. Fellow Santa Cruz-ers include Elmer Burchet on banjo, Ricky Riddle on mandolin, Jr. Sisk on rhythm guitar and Timmy Massey on bass. Each is proficient as the album's lone instrumental, "Santa Cruz Breakdown," bears out.

Vocally, this is a very pleasing album as well. Massey, (who wrote "Cold Virginia Night," 1994's IBMA Song of the Year) shares lead with Sisk. Massey has the more refined voice, while Sisk has more of an edge, giving the album a well-rounded sound. Favorite tunes include "Katy Did" and "Goodbye and So Long to You," and the gospel offering, "In This Love, I'll Abide."

Santa Cruz represents the best of bluegrass in the '90's: an abiding respect for the tradition, but an energy and a willngness to expand on that tradition. It's a fine debut.