So Long of a Journey – Hot Rize
Sugar Hill 3943
This posthumous release compiles two dates from a series of 1996 reunion
gigs by Boulder’s bluegrass outfit Hot Rize. The tapes were recently
discovered, mixed and released as a proud document of two nights at the
Boulder Theater, as well as a tribute to guitarist Charles Sawtelle, who
his fight with leukemia.
Listening to the 20 tunes that make up So Long of a Journey, it
as if the quartet are having a splendid time playing and entertaining their
hometown audience. And it seems as if the audience is enjoying their evening
But, to these ears, something seems to be missing. At first I couldn’t
figure it out. The thought would simmer around my brain as I made my way
track to track. It almost hindered my ability to listen. Then, the answer to
what had been nagging at me was revealed during some of the between-song
banter. It’s mentioned that Hot Rize had been regulars on several radio
shows including Garrison Keillor of "Prairie Home Companion" fame.
Then, it clicked! As I listened to the polite applause and the
recollections from the band members, I realized that Hot Rize, at least as
evidenced by this CD, was a family fare rendition of bluegrass. The actions
of the gentlemen onstage are fine, but too nice and crisp doesn’t relate to
taste. From those who founded new grass to the genre’s originators, there
always seemed to be the combination of refined musicianship, heart-on-sleeve
emotions, breakneck pace, recklessness and respect that I enjoyed.
Occasionally, I found that (i.e. "Empty Pocket Blues"), but for the most
the songs didn’t have that… edge To be honest, it bugged me, particularly
cutesy tunes such as "Radio Boogie".
As for the performances themselves, the four members are skilled in the
ways of their chosen instruments. The seamless method in which they blend
guitar, upright bass, banjo and mandolin is a thing of beauty. You can
actually hear the excitement and joy that they get from playing music and,
especially, playing together. And that aspect of So Long a Journey is
comes through to someone listening to the recordings six years later.