Tony Rice's CD is yet another tribute to Bill Monroe, collected from several albums. Bluegrass is seeing a greater emphasis on the guitar than Monroe placed on it in his bands. Rice is still active as a guitarist, but his acclaimed singing voice is mostly something of the past. Various throat problems make it difficult for him to speak at great lengths and singing is very rare.
A criticism of this release could be that it's just another anthology. There have been other Rice anthologies and, after a while, it would be great to hear new material. Certainly Monroe left behind such a legacy that anyone wishing to honor his memory could dig out some songs that we haven't heard over and over. In Rice's case, though, that would mean losing his vocal renditions of Monroe's music so, while it would have been good to hear some new instrumental material, the replays of Rice's vocal cuts are understandable. The instrumentals included here are some of Monroe's best (keeping in mind Monroe's best cover a lot of ground) and, in fairness, many bluegrass fans may love the music, but would have no particular appreciation of one version of Gold Rush over a different one.
Of the 14 songs, all but 1 are credited to Monroe (2 co-written with Lester Flatt). Muleskinner Blues was penned by Jimmie Rodgers and Vaughn Horton but is one of Monroe's signature songs. Taken from Rice's "Cold On the Shoulder" album, it's from the days when his voice was still good and reminds us what a great singer he was. Other familiar songs include On And On, I'm On My Way Back To The Old Home, Little Cabin Home On The Hill and Molly and Tenbrooks. This is bluegrass at its purest and best.
Monroe is well known for his gospel music. River of Death (and several other selections) is from "The Bluegrass Album", which featured Rice, J. D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson, Bobby Hicks, Todd Phillips and Jerry Douglas. It's hard to beat that lineup for traditional bluegrass music, and the harmony in this song is some of the best you'll ever hear. Also included is the familiar You're Drifting Away.
And what Monroe tribute would be complete without some of his great instrumentals? Stoney Lonesome, Cheyenne and the incomparable Jerusalem Ridge showcase the talents of Rice and his companion musicians while evoking memories of Monroe.
This is a great tribute to two legends of bluegrass: Monroe and Rice.