Granted, Peter Rowan is something of a legend in Americana circles, having played with some of the most influential outfits of the past five decades - Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys, Earth Opera, Seatrain, Muleskinner, and that effective fusion of traditional bluegrass and modern folk sensibility, Old and In the Way. It was the latter outfit that attracted Rowan particular notice, owing to the presence of Jerry Garcia in his first fulltime side project beyond his day job with the Grateful Dead. Given this diverse resume and his early interest in blues, rockabilly and contemporary country, its little surprise to find Rowan remains as eclectic as ever, steering his sound in various directions and yet still staying true to his roots.
There's no better evidence of that fact than that offered by "Twang An' Groove Vol. 1," a live eight song set that encapsulates the sprawling sound of his current sextet. A mix of familiar Rowan standards ("Moonlight Midnight," "Land of the Navajo") and traditional trappings ("In the Pines," "Muleskinner Boogie"), the songs stretch well beyond the three minute mark and into extended instrumental workouts which offer each member of the ensemble opportunity to display his licks. Pianist D.R. Commander and guitarist Carter Arrington are particularly impressive, but the entire band coalesces around a supple groove, suggesting a sound not unlike the Grateful Dead in full jam band motif.
Ultimately, it's reassuring witnessing a venerable icon like Peter Rowan continuing to adapt his stance and alter his musical MO to seduce the modern masses. Whether it's the mournful wail of "In the Pines," the blustery blues of "Muleskinner Boogie" or even the reggae rhythms that accompany "Fetch Wood Carry Water," somehow it all sounds in sync, a reflection of the band's competence and confidence. For Rowan himself, "Twang An' Groove Vol. 1" marks another milestone, at least until "Vol. 2" furnishes a follow-up.