This September marks the 100th anniversary of Bill Monroe’s birth, and not surprisingly, there have already been plenty of tributes to the Father of Bluegrass Music, with more still to come. But when listeners turn to Del McCoury’s tribute to Bill Monroe, what they hear won’t be the result of a carefully crafted campaign, but the result of a decision that was as spontaneous as it was inevitable. Old Memories: The Songs Of Bill Monroe will be released digitally through McCoury Music on September 27th.
“Old Memories: The Songs of Bill Monroe”: Listen to the album now
For Del McCoury, Bill Monroe’s legacy isn’t just a matter of history, but something that’s as immediate and personal as the guitar he picks up every time he gets ready to play. “I had done songs of his on different albums I made through the years,” says McCoury, who served a life-changing year with Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys from 1963 to early 1964. “But I’d never really thought about doing a whole album until the day we were flying home from the Grammy awards-and by the time we got to Nashville, I’d made a pretty good list of what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to do a lot of things that everybody had already done; I wanted to do some things that weren’t real popular but were really good. Some were songs I’d never heard him sing, some were songs that he’d sing on a show-and some were songs that he sang on the record, but he made me learn the lead. And I wanted to do them in the same keys he did, because if you change that, you just don’t have the same sound he had on them.”
The result is a set that perfectly captures the essence of Bill Monroe’s music, and does it in a way that stands head and shoulders above the crowd. Backed as always by his ace Del McCoury Band-son Ronnie on the mandolin, son Rob on the banjo, long-time fiddler Jason Carter and veteran Alan Bartram on bass-McCoury works his way through a generous 16-track set that nods to the shows he played with Monroe by starting with a quick “Watermelon Hanging On The Vine” and concluding with a bit of a favorite closer, “Y’all Come.” In between, there are well-known classics like “Close By” and “Rose Of Old Kentucky,” obscurities like the Hank Williams-penned “Alabama Waltz,” rarities like “The Girl In The Blue Velvet Band” and “Train 45”-( a song that Monroe was one of the few to record with lyrics) and much more. Whether they’re staples of the bluegrass repertoire or resurrected rarities, what each song has in common is an incomparable authenticity, bestowed in equal measure by Del McCoury’s personal connection to Monroe and his music, and by his unalloyed musical integrity. And in the end, that makes Old Memories: The Songs Of Bill Monroe not just the tribute to Bill Monroe that it’s intended to be, but a tribute, too, to the newest member of the Bluegrass Hall of Fame-Del McCoury.