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Bill Monroe

Big Mon: The Songs of Bill Monroe – 2000 (Skaggs Family)

Reviewed by Henry Koretzky

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CDs by Bill Monroe

Ricky Skaggs has wrapped the cloak of Bill Monroe's legacy tightly around him over the past few years. However, one might feel about that, this star-laden country music tribute to Bill Monroe is more than just a curiosity item - it's an interesting collection of how various artists incorporate and honor tradition.

Some fit snugly into Monroe's timeless sound as if they'd been Bluegrass Boys (or Girls) themselves. Patty Loveless shows a classic bluegrass sensibility on "Close By," while Steve Wariner displays more than a passing knowledge of the original version of "Heavy Traffic Ahead" by way of his phrasing and delivery. The Dixie Chicks, whose roots lie in more traditional music, team up with Skaggs on an effective and vocally lush "Walk Softly on My Heart."

More adventurous are some modernizations of Monroe, from Bruce Hornsby's piano-heavy "Darlin' Corey," made more effective by some solemn church-based harmonies on the coda, and a John Fogerty rendition of "Blue Moon of Kentucky" that owes more to Elvis than Monroe. Along with big names like Travis Tritt, Joan Osborne, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Dolly Parton, Dwight Yoakam, Charlie Daniels and the Whites (and a cast of all-star pickers on the title track), most songs are anchored by a fine group of players including Skaggs on mandolin, banjoist Jim Mills, and fiddler Stuart Duncan. "Big Mon" succeeds in the difficult task of being more a loving tribute than a country celebrity cakewalk.