Bill Monroe was arguably one of the most prolific composers in the history of American music. All throughout his life and career, Monroe was constantly creating new ideas and expressions. While many of his compositions were recorded in the studio by Monroe and his band, the Bluegrass Boys, there were others that were heard only during live stage shows or by others in informal settings. The release of Rare and Fine – Uncommon Tunes of Bill Monroe, by Mike Compton, sheds light on gems that aren’t as widely known by bluegrass listeners.
As Compton states in the CD’s liner notes, some of the tunes have been previously recorded on projects by other artists (some of which were never released), while others had not been recorded by anyone ever.
In order to effectively pull off a project of this magnitude, you need to have a strong supporting cast of musicians. Mike did exceptionally well here. Anchored by Russ Carson on banjo, Jeremy Stephens on guitar, and Mike Bub on bass, Rare and Fine also features Shad Cobb, Laura Orshaw, and Michael Cleveland on fiddle.
There are so many strong pieces to be found in this collection. The Old Stagecoach and Reelfoot Reel both do a fine job of showcasing Compton’s interpretation of Monroe’s mandolin style, while other tunes such as Trail of Tears, Orange Blossom Breakdown, and Mississippi River Blues feature phenomenal triple fiddling by Cobb, Orshaw, and Cleveland.
Galley Nipper, which some mandolinists may recall hearing Monroe play on his 1992 Homespun instructional video, is the sole tune on this project which he didn’t write. It’s one that Bill is quoted as saying is “not from this country.” Regardless of its origins, it’s an appropriate addition to this recording. Let’s Get Close Together Blues is a nice mandolin and guitar duet with Compton and Jeremy Stephens. Other pieces worthy of mention are California Forest Fire, Nanook of the North, and Jemison Breakdown.
Mike Compton has done the bluegrass and acoustic music world a great service by releasing Rare and Fine – Uncommon Tunes of Bill Monroe. These thirteen instrumentals are pieces of music that deserve to be heard, enjoyed, and played by generations to come.