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David Royko Psy.D


Tony Rice -Unit of Measure

CHICAGO TRIBUNE

February 25, 2001

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2001

RECORDINGS


TONY RICE UNIT

Unit of Measure (Rounder)


Because he has recorded so frequently, both as leader

and as part of several high-octane collectives, it is

surprising to realize that it has been nearly 20 years

since guitar virtuoso Tony Rice made an LP with his

working band. That 1982 album, "Backwaters," featured

a different "Unit" than that which Rice leads in 2001

(and in 1996, when these sessions took place):

mandolin veteran Jimmy Gaudreau, fiddler Rickie

Simpkins and bassist Ronnie Simpkins, plus the other

sole holdover, guitarist and brother Wyatt Rice. The

earlier unit could play bluegrass beautifully, even if

their sympathies were more aligned with string jazz,

which is precisely the reverse of the current

ensemble. This changeup is reflected in the material

-- on "Backwaters," it was Rice's jazzy "Spacegrass"

tunes mixed with jazz standards. This time we find

only one Rice tune (a new rendition of "Manzanita"), a

touch of jazz ("Swing 42"), and a heavy emphasis on

bluegrass standards. The program is disappointing for

its lack of originality, but the music explodes with

drive and lightening-quick ideas. Even if Bill

Monroe's "Jerusalem Ridge" and the ultimate jam

session war-horse, "Sally Goodin" have been done

nearly to death, Rice and company inject them with a

double dose of musical Viagra.

David Royko

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