Larry Rice: A Familial Bluegrass

Larry Rice: A Familial Bluegrass

Being a part of a family with tremendously deep musical talent occasionally relegates a performer to second tier status. That was the case with Larry Rice, who while a first rate mandolin player, never achieved the same kind of name recognition as his brother, the guitarist Tony Rice.

Despite that Larry and his mandolin had a hugely successful and rich recording career even as the majority of it was spent backing up better known performers. Dicky Betts, from the Allman Brothers and J.D. Crowe amongst a who’s who of hillbilly music called up Rice for accompaniment. And while it didn’t result in a tremendous solo recording career Rice released a handful of discs under his own name beginning in the ‘70s on through the aughties and up until his death in 2006 after a battle with cancer.

Rice’s passing did stir up the bluegrass community as he’d made personal connections over his four or five decades of performing. And perhaps because of these reminiscings, a fairly old, dusty and unknown disc of Rice’s cropped up over at Friends of Old Time Music.

Mr. Poverty was recorded and released during the mid ‘70s at about the same time that the new-grass thing was gaining proponents in the personage of Jerry Garcia and the like. This disc, while sporting a ridiculous line up that included Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, Ricky Skaggs and J. D. Crowe in addition to a few others, really didn’t have any outrageously successful offerings. There’s surely nothing here that could be construed as sub-par, but even with that, there’s not a track that had potentially to push Mr. Poverty into record collections that already sported discs from New Grass Revival and its brethren.

Even if Rice’s first long player wasn’t a tremendous success, a few of the up-tempo numbers worked pretty well. “Little Maggie,” the first quick step offering, is all hoe-down and big vocal breaks. Lyrically, it’s nothing but traditional styled stuffs as it details a hard drinking woman and the troubles that she has with men. But with Skaggs’ fiddle clearing out a path through its few instrumental features, the track arrives as something that should satisfy any hillbilly music lover.

A few tracks on, Rice and company go in on a pretty slow number concerning the places where one might call home. “Julie’s Song” might be quaint and rendered in dulcet tones, but even Douglas’ dobro can’t lift the track from mediocrity. Again, there’s noting musically questionable about the track, but in comparison to the faster songs, it’s just not too rewarding.

What really winds up dragging Mr. Poverty down – even as it remains a decent disc – is the sentimental pining that make up some of the work in addition to the ridiculously titled closing song. “Let’s All Have a Taco,” probably an obtuse reference to the Flying Burrito Brothers in one way or another, but as it’s neither musically enticing or lyrically arresting, rounding out this album with what appears to be something of a throw away was not a good choice. It doesn’t ruin the disc, but it’d probably serve bluegrass fans better to hunt down a date where Rice was a sideman and not in charge of wrangling songs.