A New Single Released This Week It’s Just Me From Larry Sparks.
By now it ought to be clear to any fan of authentic bluegrass and honest Americana in general that any new album by the iconic singer and instrumentalist Larry Sparks is certainly an event that brings with it a sense of heightened anticipation. After all, Sparks is not only an incredibly accomplished musician, one who can claim multiple honours from the International Bluegrass Music Association, but also an artist who has helped bring bluegrass music national and international prominence, courtesy of his celebrated stint in the mid ‘60s with the Stanley Brothers, and later, Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys. In 1969, he formed his own outfit, The Lonesome Ramblers, a band he has helmed ever since.
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Sparks’ new album, the aptly titled It’s Just Me, released today, represents a decided change of tack. Other than the occasional bass contributions of his son Larry D Sparks, It’s Just Me spotlights Sparks entirely on his own, accompanying himself in his trademark flat-picking guitar style and singing with a purity and conviction that has become his stock in trade. It’s an idea that he kicked around for awhile, one that garnered the enthusiasm of Mark Freeman, president of Rebel Records, and resulted in a rich and resilient set of songs, all flush with true tenderness, heartfelt emotion and the kind of conviction that only a true luminary like Larry Sparks is cable of delivering.
I thought, ‘Let’s check out this idea, Sparks.’ I went through a bunch of songs to see how I would like it first before I presented it to Mark Freeman and Rebel. We added a little bass, I taped a few things and thought, ‘This isn’t bad.’ I thought this approach suited me and the people would like it – Larry Sparks.
Produced by Sparks himself and recorded by Evan Wilson at Sparks’ Studio in Greensburg, Indiana, the material is gleaned from a varied array of celebrated singers and songwriters. Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and George Jones are among those represented, as well as such up-and-coming notables as Daniel Crabtree and Wyatt McCubbin. It’s an evocative set of songs, yet one that Is also spawned from simplicity and the melodic caress that each of these staples and standards have to offer.
Sparks says it was his idea to share the essence of these songs without undermining their character through arrangements that might cloud or clutter the proceedings. He didn’t want anything clouding the songs themselves, they don’t need to be covered up with too much music around them was his concern. Even a cursory listen confirms the fact he stayed true to his intents. The tender Long Way to Denver, written by the late Marshal Warwick, is flush with aural imagery and the need to find and follow a road back home. So too, his rendition of Frizzell’s beautiful Mom and Dad’s Waltz offers heartfelt homage to parental forebears in a way that can’t help but bring a glisten to the eye and sweet memories to boot. There is a certain solace found in the album’s first single Mama’s Apron Strings, a song that comes courtesy of bluegrass veterans Gerald Ellenburg and Blue Highway’s Shawn Lane and one that recalls the comfort and caress of simpler, more secure times.
Other tracks parlay similar sentiments. A re-recording of the late Keith Whitley’s Great High Mountain, which Sparks originally cut on his 1980 classic John Deere Tractor album, finds hope and determination through faith and devotion. The Scarlet Red Lines, a new number written by contemporary songwriter Daniel Crabtree, offers the promise of peace and salvation if one is willing to follow their faith and believe in the promise of all that lies beyond.
Sparks is, at heart, a true country troubadour, and nowhere is that more evident than on the vintage standard “She Thinks I Still Care,” a song composed by Dickey Lee and recorded by any number of luminaries over the years — George Jones, Connie Francis, Merle Haggard, James Taylor, and Jerry Lee Lewis, among the many. It dates back some 60 years, but in Sparks’ expressive rendition, it rings with the irony, remorse and reflection that made this song such a indelible classic beloved by one generation after another, decade after decade.
Ultimately, It’s Just Me can easily be considered yet another milestone in an illustrious career with no shortage of storied accomplishments. By reframing these cherished musical memories in his own inimitable manner, Larry Sparks pays reverence to the roots while finding continuing contemporary credence and credibility. In that regard, It’s Just Me is an exercise in humility and integrity that reflects both the singer and the songs.