Review : Various Artists - Bill Monroe Centennial Celebration
PopmattersLast year saw Rounder Records repackaged previously-issued material on both The Bluegrass Gospel Songbook and the impressive four-disc collection, The Rounder Records Story. Now here’s another compilation of reissued songs, The Bill Monroe Centennial Collection. Like the others, this comp contains previously released material from Rounder’s impressive stable of talent (and archives of recordings): The Nashville Bluegrass Band, The Bluegrass Album Band, Joe Val and the New England Bluegrass Boys, and many others. All of the songs here were penned by Bill Monroe, and all of them performed by someone else.
It’s worth mentioning that Rounder continues to release new albums by current bluegrass and old-timey artists such as Sierra Hull, Blue Highway and Larry Sparks, but this Bill Monroe compilation is far from new. It contains 28 tunes on two discs, accompanied by a 20-page booklet outlining Monroe’s life and career. It’s tempting to wonder about Rounder’s strategy with all this re-released material. Perhaps they’re trying to tap the moderately-interested but not fanatical listener, the sort of person who’ll enjoy a bluegrass record from time to time but doesn’t already have a stash of Tony Rice and Joe Val CDs on the shelf. Whatever the reason, this is an enjoyable set, with impeccably played tunes recorded to Rounder’s usual exacting standards.
Monroe more or less invented bluegrass, and his output and creativity was astounding, so there’s plenty of material for these musicians to draw from. Selections range from brisk instrumentals like the frenetic “Old Brown County Barn” and the moody “Cheyenne”, with its loping melody and fluid melody, to unabashedly sentimental numbers like “Close By”. Mid-tempo boot-stompers are the bluegrass picker’s bread and butter, and a fine selection of them are on display here, notably Wyatt Rice’s rendition of “Shenandoah Breakdown” with its jangling guitar and banjo, or the comical “Dog House Blues”, performed with suitable gusto by the always lively Nashville Bluegrass Band. The Celtic-inflected “Jerusalem Ridge”, an instrumental performed here by Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, is another standout....full text
DriftwoodmagazineBill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, would have turned 100 on September 13 of this year, and this two-CD collection takes the occasion of the centennial of Monroe’s birth to present a collection of 28 of his classic compositions selected by Rounder guru Ken Irwin, performed by 18 different traditional bluegrass acts from previous Rounder albums. Any bluegrass ensemble worth its salt probably has several Monroe compositions in its repertoire, and this collection features both obscure compositions from his songbook and perennial classics like “Big Mon” performed flawlessly on guitar by Tony Rice and “Wicked Path of Sin” delivered in all of its Gospel glory by Blue Highway. Because Monroe’s compositions comprise the fundamental canon of traditional bluegrass music, the set has a uniform sound despite the diversity of performers included. Monroe’s penchant for memorable instrumentals is represented by stirring renditions of mandolin workouts like “Jerusalem Ridge” (performed here by Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper) and the breakneck “Tall Timber,” one of five selections drawn from the Bluegrass Album Band, who also cover Monroe’s slow, soulful “Lonesome Moonlight Waltz.”
Monroe’s songbook includes some of the most memorable sacred bluegrass tunes, such as “A Voice From On High,” covered here by Joe Val and the New England Bluegrass Boys, and “Mansions for Me” rendered by Monroe’s peer Bobby Osborne and the Rocky Top X-Press. Bluegrass is also strongly rooted in the blues, represented here by tracks such as the Nashville Bluegrass Band’s version of “I’m Blue I’m Lonesome” and Hazel and Alice’s take on “True Life Blues.” The package includes a brief Monroe bio by Bill Nowlin but, sadly, omits the lineups of the various groups represented in the liner notes. Overall, this double disc set provides a good overview of Monroe’s compositions, but it’s a shame that all of the material was drawn from previous sources rather than having the artists perform new tributes to their principal influence on his 100th birthday....full text
ConcordmusicgroupBill Monroe was both the father of bluegrass music and one of the genre's most prolific writers, with a legacy that remains a touchstone for instrumentalists and vocalists alike. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Monroe's birth, Rounder presents this 2-disc 28-track set, with performances by an all-star roster of Rounder's top bluegrass artists, including Ricky Skaggs, Tony Rice, Dailey & Vincent, and The Bluegrass Album Band....full text
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