After a five-year hiatus from recording, Larry Sparks proves he hasn’t lost a beat with this stalwart new 12-song collection. New Moon Over My Shoulder is jam-packed with the sort of soulful song interpretation, masterful picking and no-frills authenticity that we’ve come to expect from Sparks over the past five decades.
The songs range from the traditional to the contemporary and are seamlessly unified by the distinct stamp of rusticity, soulfulness, and self-assuredness that Sparks brings to them. On the more traditional side are Sparks’ and his Lonesome Ramblers’ vivid reprises of the title-tune (penned by Jimmie Davis and Lee Blastic in the mid-1940s and recorded by Gene Autry in 1945), Homer Jackson’s timeless gospel ode “New Highway,” the 1930s Roy Acuff oldie “Down In Union County,” and a sparkling revival of the Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith breakdown, “Peacock Rag.”
Also herein are newer additions to the bluegrass canon, such as Daniel Crabtree’s painfully nostalgic “Take Me Back To West Virginia,” the tragic “Annie’s Boy” (Dee Gaskin and Bill Castle) and the powerful “I Only Exist,” a Joyce Morris and Jimmy Stanley composition that Sparks first recorded as a sideman for Ralph Stanley. There’s also a pair of keepers from Pennsylvania songwriter Gary Ferguson—the footloose and fancy-free “I’m Really Leaving” and a moving Civil War ballad called “Henry Hill.”
Sparks’ dexterous and expressive guitar flatpicking never ceases to amaze. And the rest of the Lonesome Ramblers—Michael Feagan on fiddle, Ron Stewart on banjo and second fiddle, Matthew Madden on bass, Evan Wilson on mandolin and harmony vocals, and Jeff Clair on mandolin—match him stride for stride. Above all, Sparks makes us feel like we’re living these songs right along with him as we meet the people and walk through the hills and hollows that he sings about so movingly. (Rebel Records, P.O. Box 7405, Charlottesville, VA 22906, www.rebelrecords.com.)BA