Peter Rowan "The Old School" Compass Records
With his 70th year behind him, Peter Rowan has recently released yet another challenging and thoroughly enjoyable album of his personal-styled bluegrass.
While he doesn't keep things smack-dab in the middle of the bluegrass trail, neither does he veer off into the ditch: in approach, this album is closer to "Legacy," his previous excellent album that served as tribute to tradition, than it is to some of his more eclectic recordings.
With considerable effort apparent, Rowan and produced Alison Brown have gathered first and third generation bluegrass pickers and singers to complement his Bluegrass Band (Keith Little, Mike Witcher, and Paul Knight). The lead track, Keepin' It Between the Lines (Old School), features not only most of the Del McCoury Band, but also Michael Cleveland, Chris Henry, Bobby Osborne, and Jesse McReynolds. The album closes with a brief reprise of the same song, but performed this time with The Gibson Brothers, Jim Lauderdale, and Don Rigsby.
Doc Watson Morning is a simply lovely and apt tribute to Arthel 'Doc' Watson. Rowan and Jerry Faires, with whom I was previously unfamiliar, have crafted a song that ideally captures Watson's style of playing- courtesy of Bryan Sutton- while sharing personal observations and reflections related to Doc Watson and his dear Rosa Lee. Beautiful.
Elsewhere, as on True Love to Last, big guns including JD Crowe, Stuart Duncan, Dennis Crouch, and Rigsby again, pull it together on a 'one off' as the finest bluegrass players seemingly do effortlessly. A Mountain Man's Dream, yet another new Rowan composition, combines earthy musical tones with strong imagery; that Jesse McReynolds picks beautifully and Jason Carter tears it up a bit are no small attractions.
Del McCoury duets with Rowan on That's All She Wrote, joining in on the chorus, while the pair harmonize throughout Letter From Beyond, the album's lonesomest song. Tying things back to the folk movement, Rowan and his crew revisit O Freedom while creating something new within Ragged Old Dream and Stealin' My Time, a duet with the always wonderful Bobby Osborne.
Considering the number of individuals who participated in this recording, around 25 musicians and singers, the project has a remarkably strong collective identity and alignment. One shouldn't be surprised by this, given that bluegrass players seem to have an innate ability to come together to present a unified front under almost any circumstance. Kudos to Brown for running herd on this mass of cats.
"The Old School" provides yet another tangible connection linking contemporary bluegrass with the music of the past, and does so in a most stout fashion.