Tony Rice is now just over 60 years old and almost 40 albums into his career. While his voice was silenced during the early 1990s due to dysphonia, he remains one of the best bluegrass instrumentalists practicing today. His guitar virtuosity has enabled him to win 10 International Bluegrass Music Association Awards.
Bill Monroe, 1911-1996, was the father of bluegrass music and a hero to Rice and just about every bluegrass musician of the last 60 years. His techniques, style, and innovations helped provide the foundation for a uniquely American form of music. He was elected to The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame during 1997 as an early influence. Thousands of musicians have worshiped at his musical alter. Over the course of the last several decades, Rice has covered a number of Monroe’s classics. Now, in celebration of the centennial of Monroe’s birth, he will shortly release The Bill Monroe Collection.
During the past year there have been a number of anthologies and compilations devoted to Monroe’s music. Rice’s release is different in that it is a collection of 14 Monroe’s covers, by one artist, gathered from different points in his career. They include his work with The Bluegrass Album Band, David Grisman, The Rice Brothers, and his solo work.
The tragedy is that his health issues have prevented him from singing in recent years as his voice was a formidable instrument. His interpretations of the songs of Monroe and Jimmy Martin were spot-on. He has also taken material by such artists as Gordon Lightfoot, Ian Tyson, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan and made them his own.
Through personal thick and thin it is guitar playing that truly stands out. While he had modernized the bluegrass sound at different points during his career, he remains firmly within that style. This latest release is not just a walk through his career but through the musical mind and legacy of Bill Monroe as well. Songs such as “I’m On My Way Back To The Old Home,” “Muleskinner Blues,” “River Of Death,” “Sittin’ Alone In The Moonlight,” and “Little Cabin Home On The Hill” are worthwhile visits to the world of bluegrass music.
Rice is just about the gold standard of bluegrass guitar. The Bill Monroe Collection is a demonstration of that prowess.