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Bryan Sutton

The More I Learn – 2016 (Sugar Hill)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Bryan Sutton

Over the past two decades, Bryan Sutton has justly earned his reputation as the finest flatpick guitarist of his generation, carrying on in the traditions of Doc Watson, Norman Blake, Charles Sawtelle and Tony Rice, all of whom Sutton counts as inspirations and mentors. Over the course of his previous solo releases, numerous studio sessions and his ongoing work with Hot Rize, Sutton's playing has often echoed with salutes to them, yet he continues to present an overall style that is distinctly his own

It takes a certain amount of obsession to learn how to play at this level, and in recent years he has turned that obsession towards honing his vocal and songwriting skills as well. The title of this release suggests he thinks he's still got some ground to cover, but the unmistakable conclusion is that he has indeed developed into a lot more than just a "picker."

Of the 10 songs (there are 3 instrumentals as well), Sutton had at least a hand in writing 7, and the title track is 1 of a number of solo efforts that nicely match his relaxed, low-key baritone vocals (and except for a few tracks where his Hot Rize band mate Tim O'Brien backs him up, Sutton does all the singing). He's very good on "Chase The Moon" (written with Jon Randall) and his own "Play Me A Record," but two of the best efforts come on his treatments of Uncle Dave Macon's "Backwater Blues" and Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go." A key element to all this is that Sutton hasn't sacrificed any of his instrumental prowess to the vocals, his guitar work remains a powerful accompaniment.

As for the instrumentals, it's a mark of his musical literacy that Sutton can take as familiar and shop-worn an old tune as "Arkansas Traveler" and put his own stamp on it, proving once again that it's not necessarily how fast you play that makes it all work. He's positively restrained on John Hartford's "Presbyterian Guitar," in a pleasantly ethereal way. Yes, he's become an accomplished singer, but it's still a treat just to listen to him play. Sutton has worked hard over the years to perfect his artistry, and he's got a lot to show for it.