Album Review of
Wow Baby

Label: Upper Management

Genres: Bluegrass

Styles: Contemporary Bluegrass, Bluegrass

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Written by Joe Ross
September 20, 2014 - 12:00am EDT
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The phenomenal Hunter Berry is first and foremost a fiddler of the highest degree. The four-time SPBGMA Fiddler of the Year has also been nominated twice for IBMA's Fiddle Player of the Year. From the town of Elizabethton in the hilly region of upper East Tennessee, some might think this musician's musician was born with a fiddle in his hands. Seems that he actually learned to play the spoons at age four, and Hunter was sawing the strings by age nine. Taught by Benny Sims and David Yates, the prodigy progressed quickly. Now, when Hunter gets the rosin flying, it's easy to mistake it for smoke in his fiery playing.

The reputation of this young phenom spread like wildfire, and Hunter was invited to join Doyle Lawson's band when he was only in 8th - grade. His parents had to reluctantly defer Hunter's acceptance until arrangements were made so that he could quit school and get his G.E.D. So, at age 17, Berry became a professional musician touring with Quicksilver. The gig, which lasted for nine months, taught the young fiddler much about discipline. On this debut album, Hunter's first employer is featured as the principal mandolinist (six cuts), and Lawson sings tenor harmony on the closer "Softly and Tenderly." In January, 2002, another chapter in Berry's musical career was about to be written when he joined hard - working Rhonda Vincent and The Rage (replacing fiddler Michael Cleveland). In a song she co - wrote with Terry Herd, Rhonda sings the lead vocals on "Hard Living."

Perhaps most impressive is that fact that Hunter Berry understands his role as song carrier, one who not only comprehends the importance of folkloric tradition but also the need to keep it vibrant and alive. Some might argue that old - time fiddle tunes like Billy in the Lowground, Ragtime Annie, or Leather Britches are overdone war horses. However, in the hands of Berry & Friends, tasty new renditions are baked to perfection. The core group of accompanists enlisted for the project includes Tony Rice (guitar), Doyle Lawson (mandolin), Ronnie Stewart (banjo), Darrin Vincent (bass). Arthur Smith's "Fiddler's Dream" is a hoedown we don't hear quite as often, and Hunter imparts sweet Texas - style bow work to the proceedings. Always an entertaining crowd - pleaser, his western swing arrangement of "Kansas City Kitty" also has drums (Tom Roady), piano (Buck White), and second fiddle (Buddy Spicher). Bryan Sutton's jazzy guitar break shines. Hunter's own triple fiddles embellish "In the Pines" and "Blue Kentucky Girl." Of special note are his own two originals, "Wow Baby" and "Waltz for Mom and Dad," the latter arranged without banjo. If fiddling is major part of this CD, so are the bluegrass songs that are so capably performed with guests like Dan Tyminski, Marty Stuart, Bobby Osborne, Adam Steffey, Jason Carter, Sally Sandker, Sonya Isaacs, Keith Williams, Randy Kohrs and others.

The gifted Hunter Berry is only in his twenties, and he's already hanging with bluegrass legends and at the top of the bluegrass game. A bright, fulfilling career ahead will yield many bountiful musical rewards for us too. Hunter's well on his way to becoming a fiddling legend in his own right. (Joe Ross)