SPARETIME BLUEGRASS BAND – Bluegrass Matinee
The Sparetime Bluegrass Band has been around some twelve years, undergoing a transformation a couple of years back when founding member Bobby Steeno and his wife Lisa retired and moved to Florida. Retirement isn’t something a lot of musicians think about but the band is aptly named for their insistence on keeping their day jobs. They also prefer afternoon gigs so they can sleep at night, hence the title of the album, Bluegrass Matinee. This is the band’s fourth release, following “The thing about it was…” in 1994, The Sparetime Bluegrass Band Live in 1999 and a live, out-of-print recording from the East Troy Bluegrass Fest in 2000.
The current lineup consists of founding member Bob Batyko on guitar and vocals, Lori Docken on bass, Jim Robarts on banjo and vocals, Scott Shank on resonator guitar and vocals and Dale Ward on mandolin and vocals.
The album kicks off with the lively “Rising Waters,” a Robarts tune that immediately showcases the band’s instrumental prowess. This is the album’s only original composition but the band offers a variety of covers and traditionals including “Don’t Break My Heart That Way,” a bluegrass adaptation of the song by Madison’s Cris Plata, two selections from the Twin Cities’ Mark Kreitzer and a couple of Bill Monroe tunes. Some of the tracks were recorded live at the Barrymore Theater by Audio For the Arts’ Steve Gotcher, including a rousing version of the traditional “New River Train,” featuring spectacular solos from Shank and Ward and lively vocal harmonies. Robarts’ banjo shines again on Kreitzer’s “I Often Think of You” and the traditional “Roxbury Breakdown” (formerly “Shenendoah Breakdown,” renamed in tribute to the Roxbury Tavern). An unlisted track by the Magnetic Fields, “Papa Was a Rodeo,” closes out the disc. It’s a mournful ballad with equally sorrowful slide from Shank and some fine supporting vocals from guest Katie Powderly, proving the band’s aptitude for pulling out unlikely covers from a breadth of artists including the Dead, the Stones, Warren Zevon and Dylan as easily as those of Bill Monroe and Buck Owens.