Music » Critics' Picks

Peter Rowan, Tony Rice and Vassar Clements

Friday, Oct. 12; Sheldon Concert Hall


With the arrival of this holy trinity of American music, the wise critic should pass over it in silence because the music the three have produced surpasses understanding: Tony Rice, incontestably among the most eloquent guitar players to draw breath; Peter Rowan, a songwriter and singer worthy of mention with Jimmy Martin and Carter Stanley; and Vassar Clements, who ... oh, forget it. The show has been sold out for months anyway. If you don't have a ticket and are too broke to scalp, or if you're just curious about that limpid acoustic sound you've heard from higher-profile musicians such as Mark O'Connor and Alison Krauss (who, in a curse of scheduling, appears at Powell Symphony Hall the same night), then find Clements' 1973 Rounder debut, Crossing the Catskills, a classic of hillbilly fiddling, or his more recent swinging jazz album Back Porch Swing. His bow work, as recognizable and rare as a Botticelli brushstroke, glows and flows with the freedom of genius. Want to hear bluegrass singing as big and bright as a harvest moon? Find Rowan's New Moon Rising, a collection of original songs that solidified his reputation as a killer voice and writer, or comb the bins for Dust Bowl Children, the best politically charged album any bluegrasser ever made. And Rice? Get them all, every last disc. Before a physically ravaged voice sent him into semiseclusion, Rice's singing, with its immaculate tone and down-home ease, was his secret weapon and the unheralded key to the New South, the greatest bluegrass band of the 1970s. His flat-picked guitar, on the other hand, has continued to communicate deeply and wisely, without a single sung word. His damaged vocal cords may still be healing, but his playing has remained nimble, lyrical and (finally) incomparable. With one ear tuned to the bluegrass and old-time source and another to jazz freedom, Rice -- like Rowan and Clements -- remains as adventurous and inviolable an artist as any critic might dare imagine.

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