Over the past 35 years, Morrisville-based guitarist Mark Struhsacker has carved out a modest career as a busy sideman. The founder of the WDEV Radio Rangers — which he started some 26 years ago in an attempt to re-create the live country-music radio-show feel from the 1940s and ’50s — is a Vermont fixture who has played on innumerable local folk, country and bluegrass recordings. Oddly, though, he never produced an album of his own work. Until now. On Cold Outside, Struhsacker finally snags the spotlight for himself and delivers a collection of originals and old favorites that leaves the listener wondering what the hell took so long.
Struhsacker plays and sings with an ease and familiarity that reflects his three-plus decades backing up the state’s finest Americana artists. He has tact and tastefulness honed over countless hours of rehearsing and gigging at hay barns, grange halls and juke joints throughout the Green Mountains. As such, Struhsacker’s original tunes fit seamlessly with covers such as Red Smiley and Don Reno’s “Little Mountain Road,” Mark O’Connor’s “Cat in the Bag” and Cindy Walker’s “Leona,” the last of which features a lovely guest turn by the always excellent Patti Casey on harmony vocals.
Casey is not the only guest returning the favor and backing up Struhsacker for a change. Banjo Dan and the Mid-nite Plowboys’ Will Lindner turns up on mandolin on a few tracks, as does multi-instrumentalist Bob Amo, who plucks a mean banjo on the Struhsacker original “Sad & Blue.” And fiddler Tony Washburn is a highlight on album closer “Cat in the Bag.”
On “Your Actions Speak Louder Than Words,” the songwriter cedes lead vocal duties to Lesley Grant, whom he regularly backs as a member of Grant’s country band, Stepstone. It’s the only track on which he plays a backing role — and does so exceedingly well, of course.
But the remainder of the disc is Struhsacker’s show. From start to finish, he shines with the same sort of quietly lovely, understated performances for which generations of local players have sought his services.
Cold Outside by Mark Struhsacker is available at Haymaker Card & Gift and Green Top Market in Morrisville, Lackey’s Variety Store in Stowe and Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick.