Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys
Live at Mechanics Hall
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2004, Volume 11, #10
Written by John Metzger
These days, being tossed aside by the Nashville mainstream is a fairly typical occurrence, and many now view it as a badge of honor to be worn proudly. It wasn’t always this way, however, and that this very fate befell Bill Monroe in the 1950s is a truly perplexing notion to consider. Sure, the legendary bandleader was an extraordinarily demanding and inordinately stubborn individual, and his behavior caused more than a few musicians to walk away from his ensemble. True, too, that his hit singles were coming further and further apart, making gigs even harder to secure. Yet, this was the Father of Bluegrass — the guy who had put a fresh face on country music — and despite the passage of time, his considerable skill hadn’t diminished a bit. In fact, his slip in popularity could be blamed just as easily upon bad marketing as it could upon his problems with personnel.
By 1963, however, both issues had been rectified, and Monroe’s star once again was on the rise. Embraced by folk music revivalists, he surrounded himself with a new line-up that featured long-time bass player Bessie Lee Mauldin, fiddler Joe Stuart, and a pair of youngsters destined for greatness on their own: a superb banjo picker named Bill Keith and a relatively unknown banjoist-turned-guitarist named Del McCoury. It’s this ensemble that is showcased on the archival release Live at Mechanics Hall, a freshly minted, 42-minute set that was originally recorded by David Grisman on November 16, 1963. Among the tunes tackled by the collective on this particular evening were stirring re-inventions of Buck Owens’ Love’s Gonna Live Here (sung by Monroe’s daughter Melissa), Jimmie Rodgers’ Muleskinner Blues, and Hank Williams’ I Saw the Light along with the mandolinist’s own classic compositions, such as Blue Moon of Kentucky, Uncle Pen, and the blazing instrumental Rawhide. From the tight-knit harmonies of On and On to McCoury’s high-flying tenor on Dark Hollow to the virtuosic skill demonstrated by each of the musicians on selections like Devil’s Dream and Panhandle Country, this was a group in midst of a remarkable rebirth. Consequently, the concert highlighted on Live on Mechanics Hall is not only an exquisite representation of Monroe’s influential ensemble, but it also is a vital slice of history.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box