Bryan Sutton has long been revered as one of the most accomplished and innovative acoustic guitarists on the scene. Novice guitarists no doubt study his techniques the way young, aspiring painters study masterpieces in The Louvre.
Now, with his aptly-named fourth album for Sugar Hill, Sutton has taken a quantum leap forward by rolling out a couple of striking new dimensions to his artistry. More specifically, he emerges not just as a lyricist, but as a singer with a style as distinct as that of other great acoustic guitarists/singers such as Doc Watson, Norman Blake, and an early Tony Rice.
In a recent interview, Sutton talked about the amount of time, thought, and energy that went into this project over the five or so years since the 2009 release of his last album, Almost Live. (Of course, during that time, he’s also stayed busy as a much in-demand Nashville session player, has continued with his ongoing collaborations with several different bands, and he’s even produced an album or two for other artists. The man stays busy.) As the music on this album quickly reveals, that time, thought, and energy was very well spent.
Collaboration has always been a key component of Sutton’s musical identity and a vital source of his creativity. And even though Into My Own might be considered a solo album (if only because Sutton’s name is the only one on the cover), it’s nearly as much a collaboration as all of his previous albums have been. This time around, he’s joined on various cuts and in various configurations by Sam Bush, Stuart Duncan, Ronnie and Rob McCoury, Dennis Crouch, Greg Garrison, Luke Bulla, Alan Bartram, Jason Carter, Noam Pikelny, and fellow guitar wizard Bill Frizzell. In the studio, he also had the help of his right-hand-man, Brent Truitt.
These performances are imbued with the sort of technical prowess and adventurous improvisation that you’d expect. Yet there’s absolutely nothing abstract or abstruse about them; they are also grounded in down-home soulfulness and rootsy emotion. Of all the impressive cuts, there are two in particular that illustrate Sutton’s great musical leap forward. On his rendition of the Guy Clark classic “Anyway, I Love You,” he shows what an impressive voice he has. On “Run Away,” a stark mountain-style ballad to which he wrote the music and lyrics, he sings to the sole accompaniment of his own clawhammer-style banjo playing.
Here and elsewhere on the album, Sutton and his fellow musicians capture that elusive and fragile balance between awesome cutting-edge virtuosity and solidly-grounded traditional rootsiness. And that’s no small achievement. (Sugar Hill Records, 230 Franklin Boulevard, Bldg. 14B, Franklin, TN 37064, www.sugarhillrecords.com.)BA