That chill you just felt is Larry Sparks at his lonesome best on his newest release, The Coldest Part of Winter and it's a dandy showcase for that unmistakable Sparks sound. From the lively kickoff of Leaving Me, through the chillingly lonesome Winter In Miami and the turbocharged rendition of Soldier's Joy featuring guest artist and fiddle ace Michael Cleveland, this is bluegrass done the way it ought to be done but so rarely is. Sparks, as much as anyone not named Ralph Stanley or Del McCoury, has managed to make bluegrass cool while maintaining the heart and soul that has defined the music from the start.
For 40 years now, since his debut with the Stanley Brothers in 1963, Larry Sparks has produced a consistent sound, always true to the traditions but absolutely distinctive and instantly recognizable. The material on The Coldest Part of Winter is mostly new, with some particularly fine songs from Marshal Warwick and David Norris, but the songs sound like they're decades old. Sparks' distinctive voice is in fine form, his powerhouse guitar playing provides the rhythm engine, while the band - Scott Napier on mandolin, Josh McMurray on banjo and Matthew Madden on bass - do a stellar job of jumping on the breaks and driving hard behind the vocals without distracting from them. This is how it's supposed to all come together. The Coldest Part of Winter is straight-up, classic bluegrass done right.