Roland White Music RW0001
Clarence White’s tragic death at the hands of a drunk driver forty years ago did not just tear apart his lifelong musical connection with his brothers Roland and Eric and their landmark bluegrass band, the Kentucky Colonels. Like the premature deaths of Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, Jimi Hendrix, and more, it terminated a brilliant guitarist’s career that still left an influence lasting generations. If only Clarence and those other greats had lived to fulfill their full musical destinies.
Yet, from time to time, rare and previously undiscovered recordings do surface, and we’re given the rare opportunity to hear new material from long-gone artists. In the case of Live In Holland 1973, this new release of the New Kentucky Colonels was recorded literally a few months before Clarence’s passing, and it shows him at the absolute peak of his musicianship.
After years of inventing country-rock guitar on his B-Bender Telecaster with The Byrds, Clarence had just returned to bluegrass to tour with Roland and Eric. Unlike the other release from their European tour recorded in Sweden that featured Alan Munde on banjo, here the brothers play with Herb Pedersen, who adds another layer of brilliant harmony singing to the classic White brothers’ close harmony style.
The result is sheer brilliance. The band sounds exceptionally tight and professional, moving from intros to song kick-offs with consummate professionalism. The interplay between Herb, Clarence, and Roland feels like they’ve toured and performed live together for years. This is not a pickup group; it’s a finely tuned, well-rehearsed band. Musically, Roland demonstrates maybe the finest mandolin playing he’s ever recorded, matching his brother note for note in creative expression and speed. Pedersen isn’t the banjo player Alan Munde is, but his contributions are typically rock solid and highly musical.
Then there’s Clarence, in my opinion the most innovative and creative guitarist of his generation on both acoustic and electric. His standby tunes such as “Soldier’s Joy” are here, but with even more speed and creativity, and he tears down tunes like “Mocking Banjo,” “Rawhide,” and “Black Mountain Rag” with a clarity and intensity never heard before. For those of us still deciphering his brilliant phrasing, uncanny sense of timing, and quicksilver right-hand work, there’s a feast of new material to delve into here.
Mention also must be made of the wonderful sound quality. The mics pick up each instrument and voice to create a wide, deep soundfield, and every note, chord, and backup lick is recorded clearly and in high fidelity. Put this CD on a really good audio system and it’s a wonderful listening experience. Every fan of the Kentucky Colonels needs this CD, and for those yet to discover one of bluegrass music’s greatest bands of all time, here’s a superb place to start. Highest recommendation. (Roland White Music, 224 Bermuda Dr., Nashville, TN 37214, www.rolandwhite.com.)DJM