Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys

At 76, Bill Monroe endures as not only the patriarch of bluegrass music but as one of its most visible performers. Since the quick-step blend of blues, gospel and string-band music took shape under his hand in the 1940s, he has been like a relentless circuit preacher determined to keep his flock faithful to the form. On his latest LP, Monroe steps back and gives some spotlight to his disciples. Lead singing is handled ably by guitarist Tom Ewing, and Monroe's storied "high, lonesome" tenor, just a bit creaky now, is saved mostly for background vocals. There's a lively mix of instrumentals, gospel songs and whip-fast country tunes, and the band (with Monroe on mandolin, "Tater" Tate on bass, Blake Williams on banjo and Bobby Hicks on fiddle) offers ensemble playing as tight as a bow string. It's hard not to miss the master's usual dominating presence, though he wrote or arranged half the songs. While devoted bluegrass fans will perhaps enjoy the variation, would-be converts may want to seek out a vintage Monroe record in which he holds down the pulpit himself. (MCA)

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • David Hiltbrand,
  • Roger Wolmuth.