LARRY STEPHENSON, “20th Anniversary,” Pinecastle. 13 tracks.

Larry Stephenson is approaching 40 years in bluegrass, but this album marks  his 20th anniversary as a band leader.

The actual anniversary, however, was February 2009.
Stephenson began his career with his own band — Larry Stephenson & The New Grass — when he was in his early teens.

In January 1979, he hit the road with Bill Harrell & The Virginians, playing mandolin and singing high lead and tenor. In 1983, Stephenson moved to The Bluegrass Cardinals.

Six years later, he formed the Larry Stephenson Band.
The 20th anniversary album features an all-star cast of friends — David Parmley, Connie Smith, Marty Stuart, Ricky Skaggs, Ronnie Reno, Sonny Osborne, Dudley Connell, Jamie Dailey, Darrin Vincent, Del McCoury and Dale Ann Bradley.

Two versions of “Talk To Me Lonesome Heart” with Smith and Stuart are included — a country version and a bluegrass version. But really, there’s not that much difference.

Smith’s voice still sounds great and it would be nice to hear more from her.

Connell sings lead on a strong version of Mac Wiseman’s “The Bluebirds Singing For Me.”

Dailey & Vincent add great harmony to the Louvin Brothers’ “Give This Message To Your Heart.”

“Have You Come To Say Goodbye” features a powerful duet with McCoury and “This Heart of Mine Can Never Say Goodbye” offers a great duet with Bradley.

It’s definitely an album Stephenson’s fans will want.

The only problem is there are so many guests that Stephenson, one of the most powerful tenors in bluegrass, doesn’t get a chance to really shine on his own here.

Look for it in stores Feb. 23. If you can’t find it, try www.LarryStephensonBand.com.

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