Tony Rice – California Autumn (1975/2021)
FLAC (tracks) 24-bit/88,2 kHz | Time – 37:08 minutes | 654 MB | Genre: Country
Studio Master, Official Digital Download | Digital Booklet, Front Cover | © Rebel Records Llc
Iremember clearly the day I moved into my dorm on the campus of East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee, January 1979. I put on my headphones and listened intently to California Autumn. As the record began, the sound that hammered into my brain that day is one of those musical memories I will never forget. I must have listened 40 times over. Recently I listened again on my new Bose headphones to see if it was as utterly awesome as I remembered. It was.
Tony’s kickoff—the tone…then his singing, so smooth and on-pitch, and the arrangement with Skaggs’s smooth fiddle and Mike Auldridge’s unbelievable Dobro solo. Then he holds the final note out an impossibly long time through some very cool chord changes. It was and is a masterpiece, and I didn’t learn until I was working on his biography years later that Tony wrote the song.
California Autumn was Tony’s first serious solo record, produced by John Starling at Track Studios and mixed by the legendary George Massenberg. It was momentous for several reasons. It was the occasion of the initial meeting and first recordings of two of the brightest lights of Bluegrass’s new generation: Tony and Ricky Skaggs; and it marked the first of Tony’s many legendary recordings with a young Jerry Douglas. The two had met at a Bluegrass festival that summer of 1974, and Starling brought them together with Tony’s employer at the time, J.D. Crowe, and his mandolinist, Tony’s brother Larry Rice, to record a few tunes for the record. The rest of the ensemble included all of Starling’s bandmates in the Seldom Scene except John Duffey: Auldridge, Ben Eldridge, and Tom Gray. Unsurprisingly, many cuts have a “Scene-like” feel to them, which is appropriate since Tony filled in for Starling on occasion and even considered taking the guitar/vocal spot in that band after John left.
The material included seven instrumentals that recalled the playing of Tony’s mentor, the great Clarence White, who had tragically died the year before. The rest featured Tony’s plaintive, powerful baritone lead vocals—pitch-perfect and soulful in their own compelling way. This record is a startling reminder of just how great a vocalist Tony was in his prime, something that may surprise younger listeners who never got to hear him sing live.
At age 23, Tony’s voice was supple and elastic. The emotion in the title cut and Larry Rice’s “Mr. Poverty” is both understated and galvanizing. “Good Woman’s Love” demonstrates his range and power, and is the first recorded example of the Skaggs/Rice power duet that within a few years would electrify bluegrass fans around the world on records like J.D. Crowe and the New South (Rounder 0044), Manzanita and Skaggs and Rice to name a few. Tony channels Jimmy Martin and Clarence on his interpretation of “You Don’t Know My Mind,” which features a blazing guitar break with a double-time ending that confounded bluegrass guitarists for years afterward. “Georgia on my Mind” reveals for the first time Tony’s emerging interest in jazz that would only develop and intensify in years to come, but his bluesy vocal is a revelation here.
While all of the instrumentals showcase Tony’s nimble facility, some bear the imprint of folk guitar, like “Alone and Forsaken” and Paul Simon’s “Scarborough Fair”—the latter foreshadowing Tony’s later “New Acoustic” versions of songs like “My Favorite Things.” Tony’s slippery composition “Bullet Man” sounds like Jerry Reed meets Clarence and it too kept aspiring guitarists busy for years scrambling to learn, much as Tony’s playing in general would the rest of his life and beyond.
The untimely passing of Tony on Christmas day, 2020 affords a review of his magnificent catalog, and this gem from his earliest days is both a fond, revealing look back and a roadmap for what lay ahead during a formative period for the legendary guitarist and singer. — Tim Stafford Jonesborough, TN January, 2021
01. Tony Rice – California Autumn (03:26)
02. Tony Rice – Bullet Man (02:57)
03. Tony Rice – Mr. Poverty (02:54)
04. Tony Rice – Billy in the Lowground (02:44)
05. Tony Rice – Red Haired Boy (03:26)
06. Tony Rice – Good Woman’s Love (03:10)
07. Tony Rice – You Don’t Know My Mind (03:01)
08. Tony Rice – Alone and Forsaken (03:27)
09. Tony Rice – Bugle Call Rag (02:48)
10. Tony Rice – Georgia on My Mind (03:19)
11. Tony Rice – Scarborough Fair (02:40)
12. Tony Rice – Beaumont Rag (03:16)