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Various Artists

In Memory of a Friend: A Tribute to the Music of Randall Hylton 1946-2001 – 2001 (Pinecastle)

Reviewed by Brad San Martin

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It is fair to say that every bluegrass fan had a favorite Randall Hylton song. A charming, unpretentious man, Hylton composed songs that were sturdy and simple, yet resonated with the warmth and purity of his sterling character. When Hylton passed away suddenly this year, bluegrass lost one of its unsung heroes.

In a noble gesture, Pinecastle honcho Tom Riggs assembled this tribute: 10 classic Hylton songs from the Pinecastle/Webco catalog, two new contributions from Eddie and Martha Adcock, a radiant track from Hylton's collaboration with Charlie Waller and Hylton's performance of "Room at the Top of the Stairs," drawn from a self-released 1983 album.

The result is a loving sampler of Hylton's gifts - bittersweet to hear, but as moving on its own terms as it is in the aftermath of Hylton's unfortunate passing. Larry Stephenson's heartbreaking "Only When I'm Leaving" demonstrates Hylton's knack for combining honky-tonk ache and bluegrass propulsion, while "Thirty-Two Acres of Bottomland" (performed by Special Consensus) is a spark of determination, made tangible by gripping imagery. Randall Hylton's own performance is the cornerstone of the collection, a gritty tale highlighting Hynton's natural affinity for the blues. Hopefully this project leads a more thorough collection of such solo recordings - for it is clear that his talent extended far beyond songwriting.