SPARKY & RHONDA RUCKER

ONE EARTH

(Tremont 2009)

One Earth album cover

What People Are Saying . . .

Sparky and Rhonda Rucker have been famous in the folk music circuit  for decades as some of the finest purveyors of traditional folk songs,  ballads and blues. Sparky's driving blues guitar, including great  slide guitar playing, and his voice, at times growling and other times  soft and poignant, has been beautifully augmented by Rhonda's  excellent singing and blues harp. Well-known for their interpretations  of blues classics, they have also been recognized as all-around  "songsters," covering a lot of ground with traditional and old time  songs.

Their new CD takes them and us into other territory as well.  This CD features Rhonda's fine vocals, wonderful piano accompaniments  and some excellent songwriting, showcasing an environmental  sensibility, never more in evidence than in the title track, "One  Earth," a song eloquent in its direct simplicity. Sparky and Rhonda's  musical roots are clear, with excellent and beautifully crafted  arrangements born out of the gospel, blues and country music  traditions of their home in East Tennessee, making full use of the  sounds of guitar, banjo, harmonica, and piano, and their two voices  carrying evocative and emotive melodies, sometimes driving, sometimes  gentle.

Their son James garners recognition for his excellent art and  graphic work. All in all, it's a superb collection.

Greg Artzner, musician
Magpie

This delightful new CD from Sparky and Rhonda Rucker represents the further growth in the musical and life partnership of these two amazing musicians. For one thing, it showcases the songwriting of Rhonda Rucker for the first time, taking their combined music in a new direction. Seven of the eleven songs on this release are written by Rhonda, who sings lead on all of them, in her clear and honest voice, with artful backup by Sparky, and other musicians such as John Kirk, Charlie Rhynhart, Hannah Rosen and Willie the Moak. Her songs reveal her concern for humanity, touching on the environment, the tragic health care situation (Rhonda was trained as a doctor!), a Civil War narrative as seen through the eyes of a southern soldier, and a particularly beautiful song about aging, written in a traditional Appalachian/British style (on which Rhonda plays dulcimer).

The remaining five tracks are re-workings of some of Sparky’s classic blues and country-tinged songs, sung in his unique, Sparky-Rucker style, two of which are based on the lives of real, though unsung, African-American heroes.

We are struck by the versatility of the content, style and arrangements of the songs on this CD. The production is sensitive and very supportive of the songs – not an overproduced CD, but representative of what you might hear in a live concert. Rhonda is a multi-instrumentalist, playing piano, blues harmonica, dulcimer and banjo – Sparky sticks to his percussive, persuasive guitar, on this one. Their combined musicality is stunning and wonderful to hear – we can’t recommend this latest offering from the Ruckers highly enough!

Barbara and Graham Dean
DJs on WBCR-FM Radio
Great Barrington, MA
www.berkshireradio.org

Recent releases by the Ruckers have featured traditional songs and songs in the traditional style. One Earth, though, contains a dozen original songs – seven by Rhonda and five by Sparky – several of which are new recordings of songs released on earlier albums. The recording is more contemporary in sound, but definitely not pop. While Sparky accompanies on guitar, Rhonda is a virtual one-person band on harmonica, piano, banjo and mountain dulcimer. Charlie Rhynhart contributes bass, and there’s occasional tenor sax, fiddle and mandolin from others on this self-produced recording.

As you might assume from the title, the overarching theme concerns our planet and the need to respect and appreciate it. That doesn’t preclude love songs and songs of broken hearts, or a reprise of Sparky’s “My Blues,” from his first recording in 1972, as well as a few other older songs. “Winter Is Nigh” is a perceptive and chilling song about aging; you’re young one day, and then “youth fades fast.” “Silas McGee” is a colorful tale Sparky released on two earlier albums about Gerald Ford’s black high school football teammate and the cordial relationship the two had after Ford became president. The song relates some of McGee’s eccentricities that brought him national prominence. “Hard As Stone” distressingly tells of a hospital emergency room that turns away a hit-and-run victim who lacks insurance. A medical doctor, Rhonda writes of what she knows. The Ruckers create a very intimate sound, as if you’re sharing a private studio session with them. Even when Sparky is letting go with a blues, there’s gentleness in their playing. Music is their life and it clearly comes through in this recording.

Rich Warren
Sing Out! Magazine

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