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Review: Bill Monroe Centennial Celebration – A Classic Bluegrass Tribute

Various Artists
Bill Monroe Centennial Celebration – A Classic Bluegrass Tribute
[Rounder (2011)]

Bill 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.

—Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA)

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