So Long of a Journey
First Appeared at The Music Box, May 2002, Volume 9, #5
Written by John Metzger
There are a lot of terrific bands that can be classified as well-kept secrets, known only to a small legion of followers, but deserving of a wider audience. Hot Rize is one of these. Founded in 1976 by Tim O’Brien, Charles Sawtelle, Peter Wernick, and Mike Scap (who was quickly replaced by Nick Forster), the band came to fruition in the ’80s. And, while the rest of the world turned to some of the worst pop and rock songs in music history, bluegrass artists trudged onward, quietly sowing the seeds of change that have blossomed in recent years.
Though it took several more decades for bluegrass to finally find mainstream acceptance, Hot Rize remains one of the most talked about ensembles of all time — and deservedly so. After all, the talented quartet not only inspired artists within its own genre, but also fueled the rise of the jam band scene in Colorado. Given the recent resurgence of bluegrass as well as the relatively recent passing of Sawtelle, skeptics might be wary about the timing of So Long of a Journey’s release. But the album is far from a lame attempt to capitalize on current trends.
Instead, So Long of a Journey captures the magic of a Hot Rize concert, polished and professional, yet relaxed and comfortable. Recorded during the band’s 1996 reunion tour over a two-night stand at the Boulder Theater, the album showcases the ensemble at its best — delivering a delightful treat for its hometown crowd. Like most groups, Hot Rize benefitted from many years of performing together and learning how each musician moved with the music, pushing each other forward in the process. There’s no question that Sawtelle kept his bandmates on their toes, tossing off guitar licks with such gentle ease and beauty, while leading the ensemble on a wild ride. But O’Brien, Wernick, and Forster were more than capable of keeping in step. And, as a result, Hot Rize unleashed some of the tightest, most exquisite bluegrass music this side of Del McCoury. Perhaps, now, via the perfectly timed release of So Long of a Journey, Hot Rize can finally garner the attention it has deserved all along.
So Long of a Journey is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box