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Peter Rowan

The Old School – 2013 (Compass)

Reviewed by Larry Stephens

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CDs by Peter Rowan

Many bluegrass musicians spent time in the Bluegrass Boys. Peter Rowan's gig was from October 1964 to March 1967. While most of the graduates of Monroe's school of bluegrass stayed close to those bluegrass roots, Rowan's adventures have varied from the path. He sometimes adds a country influence (Big Twang Theory), R&B (Twang an' Groove), reggae (Crucial Reggae) and one band is the Free Mexican Airforce. The Earth Opera paired him with David Grisman. He did rock-fusion with Seatrain and recorded "Old and In The Way" with Grisman and Jerry Garcia.

Rowan wrote or co-wrote all the songs but one on "The Old School" and, in this day of overdubs and isolation rooms for recording, chose to record this album the old school way, with musicians and singers in a circle, much like the jams you'll see at any bluegrass festival. And what a selection of pickers and singers he chose: Michael Cleveland, the McCoury Family, Stuart Duncan, JD Crowe, Don Rigsby, Bobby Osborne, Jesse McReynolds - and that's only half the list.

Stealing My Time, a duo with Osborne, makes a great bluegrass (or country) ballad, played in a mixture of minor and major chords. O Freedom is a traditional number (made famous by Odetta; the rallying cry of the Freedom Riders) that pays homage to the memory of those who fought for freedom, including Martin Luther King. The title song, Keepin' It Between The Lines (Old School) lays down the rules for music and life, and the reprise features the great Eddie Stubbs in his role as an announcer.

My Savior Is Calling Me will delight traditional fans. Featuring Rowan, Osborne, McReynolds and Jason Carter singing bass, it could have been lifted right from Monroe's repertoire, while Drop The Bone is a swinging, bluesy number about a wronged lover, a slave to his woman just like a dog to its master. In the same vein, That's All She Wrote moans about the woman who is up and gone, featuring Del McCoury's harmony vocals to outline Rowan's lead. He reminds us of the late Doc Watson with Doc Watson Morning (with Bryan Sutton playing lead guitar), incorporating bits and pieces of several Watson favorites. Letter From Beyond, with Del McCoury and the twin fiddles of Duncan and Buddy Spicher, may remind some of The Walls of Time, one of Monroe's great recordings, another story of lost love that bluegrass fans love so well.

With this mixture of great performers and bluegrass songs, arranged and recorded with tradition in mind, this is a grand representation of bluegrass music from one of the masters of the trade.