Sugar Hill Records, Inc.
P O Box 55300
Durham, NC 27717-5300
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Henry Koretzky
The liner booklet for Peter Rowan's new CD, BLUEGRASS BOY, features a prominent quote from the original Bluegrass Boy, the late Bill Monroe: "Pete, don't go too far out on that limb, there are enough flowers out there already!" Rowan, who played guitar with Monroe during one of the master's most creative periods in the mid-'60s, knows a lot about life at the end of that limb, from his stints with the daring rock ensembles Seatrain and Earth Opera, to his high-profile performances with Old and in the Way, and even electric rockabilly on his own WILD STALLIONS release.
For all of Rowan's explorations, he's always made a point of returning to his bluegrass roots. BLUEGRASS BOY, recorded shortly before Monroe's recent passing, is probably his strongest claim to his musical heritage. This recording features Rowan playing mandolin and singing lead on a dozen original compositions. The tunes are brilliant restatements of Monroe's melodic and lyrical motifs, from the mystical imagery of "White Sail" and "Wild Geese Cry Again" to the beautiful fiddle/mandolin textures of the album's only instrumental, "Pretty Little Blanco River Waltz." Never one to stay totally distant from the end of that metaphorical limb, Rowan inserts Monroe's trademark vocal mannerisms into themes that incorporate contemporary issues dealing with the embattled underclass, including the blythe idioms of the line "beggin' ain't no part of nothin'" in "Will Work for Food," and the controversial song "Ruby Ridge," set to the melody of the fiddle tune "Back Up and Push."
Throughout BLUEGRASS BOY, Rowan enlists the first-class help of a corps of Bluegrass Persons. Fiddler Richard Greene, who served alongside Rowan in Monroe's Finishing School for Bluegrass Musicians, plays some of his straightest breaks without sacrificing any of the manic energy which typifies his style. Underrated Baltimore banjoist Mike Munford is the epitome of drive and taste, while former Hot Rize guitarist Charles Sawtelle and bassists Roy Huskey, Jr. and Buell Neidlinger provide the strong rhythmic foundation so essential to the proper performance of Monrovian music.
Great vocal duets were one of the most memorable parts of the Monroe/Rowan version of the Bluegrass Boys, and Rowan brings this energy up another notch with the addition of the voice of Laurie Lewis on half of this CD's tracks. The resultant harmonies on some of these songs are positively ethereal, particularly on the gorgeous "The Green Willow." Del McCoury, another Monroe alum, also guests on a gritty rendition of "Let the Harvest Go to Seed."
Rowan's own distinctive voice soars comfortably in Monroe's high lonesome range, giving added authority to his BLUEGRASS BOY project. The overall effect is not like the discovery of an unreleased Bill Monroe recording. Rather, BLUEGRASS BOY is a true and sincere continuation of Monroe's legacy by one who learned at the feet of the master, yet who possesses the talent and idiosyncratic vision to bring a freshness to the genre. Peter Rowan's new CD is a must-hear for listeners seeking a new direction in which bluegrass music can steer in Monroe's wake.
Edited by Shawn Linderman