Of the songs on "Bluegrass Boy," he says, "I wrote specifically for that album and only on the mandolin, over two or three years. I wanted to get the same feel as Monroe, in the vocal phrasing, and that's a whole lot easier playing on a little instrument. It really helped put it into a bluegrass direction."
As a writer, he finds it both challenging and exhilarating to work within a style so dominated by great songwriters.
Rowan says, "The writers who write more seriously, who read, who want to be powerful, ask themselves, 'What are we in this for? Can we even entertain the thought of equaling the greats? Well, yeah!'"
As a serious writer, Rowan doesn't shy away from controversy.
"Ruby Ridge," a song on "Bluegrass Boy" based on the 1992 confrontation between Federal agents and white supremacist Randy Weaver provoked considerable discussion among those who heard it, especially folk-oriented DJs responsible for selecting "Bluegrass Boy" cuts for airplay.
"The immediacy of bluegrass to me is not just talking about the distant past," Rowan says. "It's a really hard subject to bring up because it's so divisive. I'm not on the side of racist `patriots,' but I'm not on the side of heavy-handed government murders, either."
He rejects the notion that to write about Weaver's armed confrontation with the FBI is to "glorify" him or his ideas, pointing out that country murder ballads such as "The Knoxville Girl" don't condone the acts they describe, even when narrated by the criminal.
"The song means that two wrongs don't make a right. The cry is `don't shoot me down.' The guy could be completely wrong, but does he deserve to be shot down? I never wrote the song to be a topic, but there needs to be talk about this as a topic," Rowan says.
He reasserts the need for songs, including country and bluegrass songs, to tell stories: "Music takes the pain away from a lot of hurt. We can't give it all to TV to tell us what's going on. Sometimes you have to just tell the unvarnished story: there it is."
Though Rowan's willing to talk about "Ruby Ridge," his focus these days is on the coming year.
Foremost will be several reunion concerts with Old And In The Way, the ground-breaking band from the early 1970's that featured him, mandolinist David Grisman, the late Jerry Garcia on banjo, bluegrass fiddler Vassar Clements and the late John Kahn on bass; with Herb Pedersen (Desert Rose Band, Laurel Canyon Ramblers) filling in for Garcia and Roy Huskey Jr. or Grisman's regular bassist James Kerwin replacing Kahn. Appearances are scheduled at Colorado's Rockygrass festival and in Wyoming as well this spring.
Through his fan club, he's putting together a river-rafting trip in the Southwest for May, to be called "A Sacred Journey Through The Land Of The Navajo," reflecting both the title of a late-'60's song of his and an abiding interest in the Native American experience.
He says, too, that he may be involved in some kind of collaboration with Steve Earle, with whom he worked on the latter's "Train A-Comin'" album.
And for his own next recording? Rowan laughs. "I'm writing, with no recording plans as yet. Instead of rushing into the next project, I want to step beyond what I've already done."