Andy Statman never intended to be limited to a single genre. Over the years, he’s shown his proficiency on a number of instruments — from klezmer clarinet to bluegrass mandolin — without missing a beat in-between. A Grammy nominee as Best Country Instrumental for his recording of Bill Monroe’s song, Rawhide, as well as a recipient of a National Heritage Fellowship grant, he’s delved into jazz, Chassidic music, traditional Eastern European music, roots, and R&B, rightfully earning him a reputation as a varied and versatile virtuoso.
Statman’s latest outing, Monroe Bus, which also happens to be his 35th release thus far, further demonstrates his continuing affinity for the music of Bill Monroe, a sound that was nurtured within him when he played as a hired hand for friends David Grisman and Russ Barenberg, and later as part of two seminal outfits, Country Cookin’ and Breakfast Special. In the liner notes, Statman says he was inspired by a dream in which Monroe appeared before him and decried the fact he wasn’t getting due recognition. Later, Statman recalled his fascination with Monroe’s battered touring bus, affectionately named “Bluegrass Breakdown,” and decided to adapt the handle as the title of his new album.
Initially, the effort was intended to be a reworking of Monroe’s interpretations and improvisations, but as the project progressed, Statman switched gears and decided to record his own tunes, while still referencing Monroe’s music in the process. In reality though, it took on a life of its own, and with a baker’s dozen of his own instrumentals serving as his template, Statman manages to vary the format to good effect. With an assortment of guest musicians adding to the depth and diversity — Michael Cleveland and Michael Daves among them — he manages to change tone and tempo throughout, veering from the jaunty title track, the nimble plucking and picking of Raw Ride, and the sprightly sounds of Mockingbird, to the twists and tangles of Ice Cream on the Moon, Statman Romp and Old East River Road.
The combined craft and complexity is as exceptional as always, but even when he opts for the more sobering sounds found on Broby’s Blues, the mournful Reminiscence and the tender Lakewood Waltz, the precision of the performances still stands out.
Statman is one of those musicians who manages to combine savvy ad skill in equal measure. With Monroe Bus, his storied legacy is absolutely assured.