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Peter Rowan

The Old School

(Compass; US: 30 Apr 2013; UK: 24 Jun 2013)

Pure Bluegrass Music

There are two schools of thought regarding bluegrass. Some people love the music played clean and true with lots of strings and lonesome tenor vocals. Others think bluegrass sounds like jabbering; insect music that is best heard in small doses. To my rating of this album, add two points if you like bluegrass: old-school bluegrass in particular. This is the real deal. Peter Rowan was one of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys and he’s joined by legends such as Del McCoury, Bobby Osborne, Jesse McReynolds and Bryan Sutton on sundry cuts.


However, subtract two points if you are not a bluegrass aficionado. The two or three non-bluegrass songs have their charms, but are nothing essential. Of particular note is Rowan’s composition “Doc Watson Morning” where he details Watson’s biography (“Now Doc’s real name was Arthel”). The results are tepid. Now I am of the opinion that just about everyone should pay tribute to the great Watson, but Guy Clark sang it first and best with, “I have seen the David / I’ve seen the Mona Lisa too / I have heard Doc Watson / Play Columbus Stockade Blues.” Watson deserves a better tribute from Rowan.


Part of what makes bluegrass appealing is its cold precision. Sometimes this seems to represent pent-up passions. Other times it just comes across as solid playing. Rowan and company are truly solid here.

Rating:

Steven Horowitz has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa, where he continues to teach a three-credit online course on "Rock and Roll in America". He has written for many different popular and academic publications including American Music, Paste and the Icon. Horowitz is a firm believer in Paul Goodman's neofunctional perspective on culture and that Sam Cooke was right, a change is gonna come.


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