19 MAR 12 JOHN C. BRUENING
From the mid-1970s, guitarist Tony Rice crafted nearly 20 recordings that showcased his combination of engaging vocals, intricate flatpicking style, and an ability to successfully filter virtually any style of music through his firmly rooted bluegrass sensibilities. His creative momentum was curtailed in the early-'90s by a case of dysphonia (an impairment of the vocal chords' ability to create sound), but not before he had laced his recorded body of work with numerous covers of songs by Bill Monroe, who is widely considered the father of bluegrass. Fourteen of these covers are assembled on the recent Rounder release The Bill Monroe Collection.
The set opens with the spirited "On My Way Back To The Old Home," in which Rice uses his guitar as a percussive instrument as much as a melodic and harmonic one. Further in, the driving "Muleskinner Blues" is fully arranged with fiddle and banjo, but leaves enough room for Rice's high-speed flatpicking solo style to peek through. Rice takes his guitar chops into an even higher gear in "Gold Rush," a rousing instrumental that pits Rice against fiddle and banjo in a battle of fast-paced licks where everyone wins. The midtempo closer, "You're Drifting Away," is a spiritual with a message that would fit well in any tent revival.
The Bill Monroe Collection spans 15 years of Rice's discography. It includes some of the most talented bluegrass musicians anywhere, playing behind a guitarist who is considered by many to be nearly as significant a figure in the genre as Monroe himself. This compilation, then, is one giant paying tribute to another.