Laurie Lewis and Bill Monroe

Even though Laurie Lewis channels Bill Monroe in her new tribute to him, Skippin’ and Flyin’, she knows she won’t please some of the purists.

“I picked songs that were from the same sort of well that he would have chosen from,” she said this week at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass conference in Nashville. There are choices from the Flatt and Scruggs songbook, the Carter Family, some traditional songs, a couple of her own and some from contemporary writers, most with the sound and feel of bluegrass.

“I just tried to treat each song the way I would do it with a bluegrass band,” she said. “There’re people who will say that’s not bluegrass. I’ve been through that my whole career. I mean, there are still some who say women can’t play bluegrass.”

Laurie has had to deal with the that’s-not-bluegrass label for years, so it’s no surprise that she expects criticism this time as well, even though this album is comfortably lodged in the bluegrass camp. What is surprising is her explanation for accepting the barbs.

“They’re all going to die out eventually,” she said. Laurie followed the comment with a hearty laugh, but the look in her eyes suggested she wasn’t kidding. In fact, she repeated the comment later, then said, “Make sure you write that.”

Laurie said she decided to add her tribute to the pile of other projects commemorating Monroe’s 100th birthday because “Bill has inspired me in so many ways in my music, and I just can’t seem to get away from it.” She offered a similar explanation in the liner notes: “I realize, looking back, that my path as a musician and songwriter, and my whole approach to making music, were influenced in various ways by what I found in Bill Monroe’s music.”

In picking Monroe songs to record, Laurie said she deliberately chose his most recognizable, Blue Moon of Kentucky, and one more obscure, A Lonesome Road. While there is a danger in covering a song as well known and well done as Blue Moon, Laurie’s version is a winner, sticking to Monroe’s original waltz-time version. “I’m not worried about whether somebody thinks Del McCoury sings it better than me,” she said.

Blue Moon of Kentucky: [http://www.laurielewis.com/tunes/skippin/bluemoon_c.mp3]

This project should bring the former IBMA female vocalist of the year some new respect in bluegrass circles, but she has no plans to sit around and wait for the accolades. In addition to playing in support of Skippin’ and Flyin’, Laurie will produce a project for Alice Gerrard, best remembered for teaming up as a duo with the late Hazel Dickens, is teaming up with Kathy Kallick for a tribute to legendary California grassers Vern & Ray, and wants to record a jazz project.

Yeah, yeah, she knows. That ain’t bluegrass.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.

  • Josh

    She shouldn’t worry. That’s a fine version. As for whether its Bluegrass or not, I could care less. I’ve always preferred Ray Charles’ version in “Swingova” time. It’s got a little more soul.