Recently on a canoe / camping trip to The Adirondacks in Upstate New York my father asked me for some music that would inspire him during the drive though the Eastern High Peaks Region. Instantly I thought of Bill Monroe, if you are not familiar with this bluegrass icon you should be, this is vintage bluegrass at its best.
I picked up this box set a few years ago on a lark since I wanted to add some dimension and variety to my music collection. I had been familiar on a superficial level with Bill Munroe and Earl Scruggs (a protege of Monroe) and liked what I had heard, normally the only time I listened was on my local college radio station (WRPI).
I had picked up the two-disc set of Allison Krauss and Union Station Live and was really intrigued by bluegrass and modern country. If you are not famliar with Krauss’ live album it is one of the best live albums I’ve heard, incredible. I’ve never been one to feel compelled to pick up a Tanya Tucker, Merle Haggard, or Willie Nelson album; that type of Country/Western music never really has appealed to me. However, vintage Johnny Cash and Hank Williams Sr. always has, so I figured that why not Bill Monroe . Luckily my bet paid off and this 2-disc set is worth every penny as an introduction to the roots of bluegrass.
Although Monroe had many hits over his 40+ year career, one of the highlights of his music was his hit “Blue Moon of Kentucky“; this song is featured on this collection; one can plainly see why this song was so appealing, but there are 39 other songs as equally as impressive. The biggest gripe however about this box set is that a majority of the songs are not the actual studio hits, many are alternate versions or unreleased studio tracks of hits. There is a companion cd that Columbia released “Bill Monroe: 16 Gems”, this is more of a “best of” album than anything else, good yes, but for a purist I feel that the box set is far more a better investment.
The overall sound quality is good but not incredible, most of the tracks were recorded in the early to mid-1940′s so you can understand why it may sound “boxy” at times. You can get a used box set for about $12.00 on Amazon. Do yourself a favor if you are a bluegrass fan, or looking for an inspirational album to set the mood as you head on your epic camping trip.
The Essential Bill Monroe (1945-1949) 2-disc set gets 4.0 out of 5.