Over the past year’s Bill Monroe Centennial there have been numerous anthologies of various artists doing their versions of his music, restating the enormity of Bill Monroe’s legacy on the entire field of bluegrass music. Tony Rice’s The Bill Monroe Collection, due out on Rounder Records (division of Concord Music Group) on January 31, 2012, may have a somewhat different impact, in part because it is a collection by one artist only, recorded over a period of some 15 years. The material, consisting of major songs and instrumentals by Monroe, was recorded in a variety of band configurations over these years, allowing guitarist Rice to make his own unmistakable mark on bluegrass music.
Though Tony Rice grew up exposed to a fairly broad range of music, as did Monroe himself, he primarily ”grew up” in bluegrass. Unlike the mentoring that happens to young bluegrass virtuoso instrumentalists of today, Rice’s early influences were arguably deeper, as there were fewer of them.
Over the course of his career, the Virginia native has played alongside J.D. Crowe & the New South, David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, Norman Blake, the Tony Rice Unit and the Bluegrass Album Band. In 1983, he received a Grammy Award for “Best Country Instrumental Performance” as part of the New South band. He has received several International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Awards.
Rice’s childhood, although far away from the bluegrass heartland of the South, was spent listening to live bluegrass music in Southern California, where his family had moved when he was young. There his father introduced him to the sounds of Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. Today, decades after that introduction, Rice is acknowledged as one of bluegrass music’s major popularizers and the most revolutionary guitar player the genre has ever heard. Ricky Skaggs is quoted in Caroline Wright and Tim Stafford’s full-length biography of him, “This guy is the best singer I’ve ever heard. And Alison Krauss says in the same book, “(Rice’s) singing and the playing are so shockingly beautiful.”
Rice has become the Gold Standard of bluegrass guitar. His voice was equally the perfect vehicle, almost spookily so, for his personal interpretations of the great songwriters from Bill Monroe to Jimmy Martin and Gordon Lightfoot. Rice captures something very unique yet achingly pure and equally true, cutting straight to the heart of any of these songs— the Monroe collection is the singular demonstration.
Rice says it all: ”I see Bill Monroe in the same light as Miles Davis, absolutely the best . . . as pure as it gets.”
1. I’m On My Way Back To The Old Home
2. When You Are Lonely
3. Jerusalem Ridge
4. Muleskinner Blues
5. Sittin’ Alone In The Moonlight
6. Stoney Lonesome
7. Molly And Tenbrooks
8. River Of Death
9. Gold Rush
10. On And On
11. I Believe in You Darling
13. Little Cabin Home On The Hill
14. You’re Drifting Away