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The Prater's Creek Gazette

10th Issue Summer 2006 Page #4

CD REVIEW: Four Thieves Gone - The Avett Brothers

Okay, let me say this up front: I love this band, but I get sick of them being referred to as “bluegrass”!!!!!!!!!!!!

Avett Brothers CDYes, one of the brothers plays a banjo, and the third guy, the one that’s not an Avett, plays an upright bass. The band does sing some beautiful songs with some tight harmony, but they ain’t bluegrass. They couldn’t play a decent version of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” if you held a gun to the banjo player’s head. And how many bluegrass bands do you know that the guitar player also uses a kick drum and the banjo player plays a high-hat (or is it the other way around)?

“Bluegrass (mainly folk)-informed” maybe. But they are just as informed by The Violent Femmes, Motorhead, or Iggy and the Stooges. Imagine if The Violent Femmes had grown up in North Carolina instead of Milwaukee. And this CD is the best CD of the year. No contest.

The first song, Talk On Indolence, shows, what has to be, a big Violent Femmes influence as they wail away, playing power chords on their acoustic instruments. Then the second song, Pretty Girl From Feltre, another in the line of “Pretty Girl” songs, starts with this weird harmony, singing “Suzanna, Italiana” and beautiful piano. “Walking a mile into town, hoping that you’d be around”. What a beautiful song.

Songs such as Colorshow and Matrimony are acoustic powerhouses that rock as much as anything some slob with a Les Paul and Marshall stack.

They have a few songs about cheating on their little arty girlfriends too. Songs like Pretend Love, Left On Laura, Left On Lisa, and my favorite song on the album, A Lover Like You. “She may be all on my case, want to kiss me on my face, put my hands on her waist, and take me back to her place….I would happily follow, but not when I have a lover like you”!

Buy this album. And if you trust this review, go ahead and pick up their last CD, MIGNOTETTE, because you’ll be heading back to the record store to get it anyhow. See this band live. You’ll thank me.


Rudy Lyle PhotoThe recordings that Bill Monroe made in 1946 and 1947, when Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were members of the Bluegrass Boys, are considered to be the “official” start, the “Holy Grail” if you will, of bluegrass. Earl’s world-changing, three-finger style is argued to be, by some folks, the most important seminal event in bluegrass history. These folks say that Scruggs’ banjo playing is more important to the history, of what we now call “bluegrass”, than Monroe’s role.

Well, I’m not here to argue that point. Let me just say they are wrong.

I’m here to sing the praises of the guy who took Earl’s place in Bill’s band after Earl left the Bluegrass Boys: Rudy Lyle.

Actually, Don Reno took over the banjo slot in The Bluegrass Boys, and Mac Wiseman on vocals, during the months after Flatt and Scruggs’ departure. But Reno didn’t record anything with Monroe during this, his first, stint with Bill.

Rudy Lyle grew up in Franklin County, Virginia listening to his grandfather, Lomax Blankenship, known throughout the region for his fiddle playing. As a young boy, Lyle was a big fan of Snuffy Jenkins who whom he heard over the airwaves from WPAQ over in Mt. Airy, NC. Jenkins who was playing a two fingered roll style, was influencing many young banjo pickers, Earl Scruggs’ included, through his radio performances.

Lyle was taught the rolls by local banjo player Lawrence Wright and soon was playing on WPAQ himself. Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys came to play on WPAQ in the summer of 1949. Monroe’s band had just broken up again and he had only two musicians with him, neither a banjo player. As Lyle told it: “(Bill) didn’t have a banjo player, so I tuned up and went out there with him”.

After the show Lyle told Monroe that he’d like to join the band and three weeks later Monroe sent word for him to come to Nashville. He played his first show as an official Bluegrass Boy on The Grand Old Opry.

Soon Wiseman was back on board for a short time and the band hit the studio recording such classics as Can’t You Hear Me Calling and Travellin’ this Lonesome Road. Fiddle player Chubby Wise left the band and another Floridian, Vassar Clements came on board. Then Wiseman left for his final time, and a young upstart, Jimmy Martin, from Sevierville, TN, showed up at the Opry back door to audition for Monroe.

In  1950 and ‘51, Bill took this band into the studio. This was one of Monroe’s most prolific periods, penning and recording classics My Little Georgia Rose, I’m On My Way to the Old Home, Uncle Pen and Rawhide. Lyle’s break on Rawhide is still the measuring stick for any banjo player who lays into that instrumental.

This lineup of The Bluegrass Boys further set in stone what we now know as “bluegrass”. Martin’s rhythm guitar playing and singing pushed Monroe more that Flatt ever did. And Lyle was up to the task of following Scruggs. “He was powerful,” Monroe said about Lyle’s playing.

Because of Bill’s hard touring schedule, up to five theater shows a day, and the hurtin’ that rock and roll was beginning to put on the band’s income, various musicians (13 year old Sonny Osborne, Carter Stanley) were coming and going in the band. Then Monroe was laid up in the hospital after almost being killed in an auto accident. Jimmy Martin had came back to the band, and in 1953 so did Rudy Lyle. Along with Charlie Cline on fiddle and Ernie Newton on bass, this lineup laid down such monsters as Sitting Alone In The Moonlight, On and On, and White House Blues.

Rudy Lyle’s banjo picking on White House Blues is his greatest single contribution to bluegrass music. Lyle’s banjo and Bill’s mandolin get all of the instrumental breaks. The banjo kickoff on “White House Blues” is perfect.  It’s at breakneck speed with notes flying at a million miles a second. And all of his four solos, and the solo ending the song, still to this day, take the listeners’ collective heads off.

Fans, and banjo players wanting to learn a lick, found him to being a great guy off of the stage also.

Yes, Scruggs and Reno gained more popularity because of their careers as stars with Flatt and Smiley/Harrell respectively. But every bluegrass fan should know the work of Rudy Lyle.

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