Another bumper release from Australian compilation favourites, Raven Records and a rare one it is too! Since, they have selected the Father of bluegrass the late Bill Monroe as their subject. A masterful mandolin picker and bandleader with what is an instantly recognisable, high lonesome tenor singing voice Monroe pretty much started the music. Plus, through having a wealth of acts come through his band he produced a remarkable ensemble of recording artists. Many of who have gone on become big names in their own right Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Mac Wiseman, Peter Rowan, Del McCoury, Jimmy Martin and others too. The list just goes on and on.
As for the music it is from a time late in his career (1983-1985) with three bonus cuts coming from his 1987 album, Bluegrass ’87 (MCA). If it wasn’t for the pointless introductions and back slapping made by the acts who join Bill my enjoyment of the album Bill Monroe And Friends would have been greater. Having got my one and only gripe out of the way this not only a wonderful introduction to the music of Monroe but it also pays great homage to a feast of others who play it. Also there are one or two as in Johnny Cash, Barbara Mandrell, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Mel Tillis, Larry, Rudy & Steve Gatlin and the Oak Ridge Boys and of course you have Emmylou Harris who join him for a rendition of ‘Kentucky Waltz’ long time admirers of the stetson totting legend. If that doesn’t whet your taste buds I don’t know what will.
While it is good to see such a star-studded cast and have Ms Mandrell lend both her sweet voice and talent on Dobro on ‘My Rose Of Old Kentucky‘ it is with the second album featured the best music by a bluegrass mile is found. Pure and sharp as a needle there is an abundance of treasures on offer with non any finer than when the late John Duffy supplies his high tenor to Bill’s own lonesome tones on ‘Remember The Cross’ as Washington DC band, Seldom Scene partner him. Plus you have Del McCoury, The Country Gentlemen (Charlie Waller, Jimmy Gaudreau and Bill Yates) Ralph Stanley etc and on through to Bluegrass Hall Of Famers Jim & Jesse who get to help Bill burn it up on ‘I’m On My Way Back To The Old Home’ and ‘Mighty Dark To Travel’. The latter comes from the Bluegrass ’87 album that as is the hot instrumental, ‘The Old Brown Barn’ has Bobby Hicks not for the only time match Monroe’s famed mandolin with his splendid work and there are more, lots more as the Osborne Brothers (Sonny and Bobby) rub shoulders with Cash singing his treasured classic ‘I Still Miss Someone’ and John Hartford (fiddle, vocals) on the haunting ‘Old Riverman’. Who is to say the old boys aren’t at this very moment polishing up their skills up in the great blue yonder in some band!
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