Though the title sounds more like an autobiographical memoir, Adventures Of A Blue Grass Boy is a “new” CD from Tom Ewing, who played guitar and sang with Bill Monroe roughly from 1986 until Bill passed in 1996.
Recently released on Patuxent Music, the album contains recordings Ewing made during the time he was a Blue Grass Boy, and though Monroe does not make a personal appearance, his music and the sound he pioneered leap from each of the tracks. Tom points out that a digital master of these songs was never created until now, and he thanks Tom Mindte of Patuxent in his liner notes for making them available to a new generation. Most of the tracks had been previously released in the ’80s and ’90s, but only on cassette tapes and not in wide distribution.
To contemporary ears, this really sounds like music from another age. Ewing has a smooth but unpolished voice, well-suited to the songs he has chosen, which are a mix of bluegrass standards and his own original numbers. Long time bluegrass fans may recognize A Distant Land To Roam from The Carter Family, or The Old Hometown from Flatt & Scruggs. Tom also includes a version of Black Jack Davy, an old folk song which he learned from Monroe, When The Bees Are In The Hive, which Bill cut in the late ’60s, and a couple of old timers like Please Come Back, Little Pal and Willie Moore, both of which preceded Big Mon’s prominence in the music world.
What makes the CD so satisfying is how much it sounds like the Monroe bands of the ’80s and ’90s, which shouldn’t be a surprise since that’s who recorded it. Banjo is provided by Blake Williams, Billy Rose, and Sandy Rothman, and fiddle by Blaine Sprouse, Glen Duncan, and Robert Bowlin. Mike Compton takes the mandolin role, and his impression of Monroe’s playing is quite remarkable. He has, of course, developed his own style over time, but absorbing his take on Bill from the ’80s is a real treat. It’s like hearing the big man when he was in his prime, performing with his later bands.
Jesse McReynolds appears on two songs playing mandolin, and Tater Tate, Roy Husky, Jr, and Billy Rose are on bass.
To my ear, it’s Tom’s original songs that stand out the most here, especially O-hio with its lonesome falsetto, and Take Me Home which he wrote about Monroe in 1987 when he had become quite ill. Old Friend is another strong track, one Ewing wrote to commemorate the unexpected passing of two close friends, as is She Looked A Lot Like You, a true story that happened in Tom’s life.
Fans who enjoyed Tom Ewing’s time with Monroe will certainly appreciate this record, as will fans of Bill’s bands of this era. Adventures Of A Blue Grass Boy provides a sort of window into that time, and a very enjoyable one at that.
The album is available directly from Patuxent Music, or wherever bluegrass CDs and downloads are sold.