PETER ROWAN BLUEGRASS BAND
Compass Record Group 7 4543 2
You can’t really say Legacy is Peter Rowan’s homecoming to traditional bluegrass since he never really completely left tradition behind. Diverted from it, yes—even for long spells. But, the ancient tones were always beneath the surface. It’s better to say this recording contains a body of work that is more thoroughly grounded in the tradition than anything he’s done in a long time, and it’s arguably among the finest bluegrass recordings made in a decade…perhaps in the last 25 years…maybe longer. It is that good.
A few particulars: thirteen tracks; ten of them Rowan originals; one traditional tune; one Stanley tune; and one Jody Stecher original instrumental. In addition to Stecher on mandolin and vocals, Keith Little is on banjo and vocals, and Paul Knight plays bass—a group of guys who truly understand the form and subtleties of the traditional style.
What should strike the listener right away is the songwriting. “Jailer, Jailer” is a blues-based, Monroe/Dylan hybrid that uses jail as a metaphor for traps we get ourselves in. Interestingly, it ends with Rowan pleading not to be set free. “Father, Mother” is a beautiful, slow lament on death and comes cloaked in a Jimmie Rodgers-like sentimentalism. It’s a song that could easily veer into the maudlin or corny, but Rowan is too fine a writer for that, and the performance is so pure it never becomes anything less than believable. The same could be said for “Turn The Other Cheek” and its admonition to treat our fellow man well, and for “God’s Own Child,” with its intense personal expression of faith, its call and response vocals, and the contributions of guest vocalists Del McCoury and Ricky Skaggs. All four could stand with the classics of traditional bluegrass.
Other fine songs include the mountain blues public domain tune, “Catfish,” sung to perfection by Stecher, the Stanley gospel tune, “Let Me Walk By Your Side,” with Keith Little handling the lead, and the old-time Rowan original, “The Raven.” In the latter, Rowan writes in a bit of Poe and even references his own “Midnight Moonlight.”
One final note. Not all the tunes here work solely within traditional bounds. “So Good,” “The Night Prayer,” and “Don’t Ask Me Why,” fine songs all, are more in keeping with the pop-influenced style of the ’70s. And, he can’t resist ending on what sounds like a traditional mountain song, “Across The Rolling Hills,” only the hills are the Himalayas and the ride out is a Buddhist mantra. In a sense, part of the legacy he is reflecting is his own. (Compass Records Group, 916 19th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212, www.compassrecords.com.) BW