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28 SEP 11 DAVID SHANNON
September marked the 100th anniversary of bluegrass father figure Bill Monroe, and to commemorate the occasion Rounder Records has released Bill Monroe Centennial Celebration: A Classic Bluegrass Tribute.
The credits on the two-disc compilation reads like the guest list to a bluegrass Hall of Fame party, all artists delivering loving renditions of Monroe tunes, offering a deep look into the songwriting of a bluegrass legend.
Disc One kicks off with a literal bang with Monroe's "Tall Timber" dizzyingly performed by The Bluegrass Album Band, who themselves essentially comprised a supergroup (founded by Tony Rice and J.D. Crowe) of the genre. Later in the disc their take on "Wheel Hoss" matches Monroe's original lively pace but still manages to make a standard sound fresh, while conversely, their version of "On The Old Kentucky Shore" sounds so authentic it could have come from the archives of the Smithsonian.
Disc Two continues in this vein, flowing from traditional-style numbers like "The Walls of Time" from '80s-era sensation The Johnson Mountain Boys to "Jerusalem Ridge" from the precocious Rounder recording artist Michael Cleveland, who is currently touring the U.S. with his band Flamekeeper.
And so goes the music on both discs: At times sounding new, at others as if you're sitting on a Kentucky porch in a bygone era, a mix of instrumental barn-burners, plaintive vocal tunes, and blistering, old-timey dance numbers. The scale and range of the artists themselves, from Monroe contemporaries like Joe Val and Ralph Stanley to current stars such as the award-winning IIIrd Tyme Out and Cleveland, renders the collection an instant classic. The effect is something of a revelation of the many facets of Monroe, and the dedication to which the various artists devote their talent to the songs underscores just how important Monroe is to the world of bluegrass, now and then.