When Hot Rize, the great Colorado bluegrass band, got back together for a reunion concert at the Boulder Theater six years ago, Nick Forster, the group's bass player, had the foresight to record the show. Then he lost the tapes. Luckily, his wife, Helen, discovered them in a closet of their Boulder home. Now released by Sugar Hill Records, So Long of a Journey captures the group in all their high-lonesome, hotter-than-blazes glory.
There was something magical about Hot Rize, as anyone who saw them perform live knows. Tim O'Brien, a gifted singer, mandolinist and fiddler, handled most of the lead vocals, and he wrote a fair number of the songs. The late Charles Sawtelle, who died of leukemia in 1999, was famous for taking wild, hang-on-to-your-seat excursions on his 1937 Martin D-28. Peter Wernick was one of the most creative banjo players in the business -- even if he did have a strange fondness for playing his instrument through a phase-shifting device. Bassist Forster was the band's affable emcee -- and a fine singer, too. Together they were a little slice of heaven.
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So Long of a Journey finds the band playing mostly old favorites ("Radio Boogie," "Blue Night," "Walk the Way the Wind Blows"), with a few then-new numbers ("Climbing Up a Mountain," "The Butcher's Dog") thrown in for good measure. The band had been playing together since 1978, and it shows: They harmonize seemingly without effort, never stepping on each other's toes, and their picking is sweet and smooth. "We were a band that knew each other really well," Forster writes in the liner notes, "and this is what we sounded like on a good night." Thank you, Helen, for finding those tapes.