Bill Monroe's home place is a little crossroads town in western Kentucky called Rosine. Its corners consist of a graveyard where the Father of Bluegrass is buried with his dog and his Uncle Pen, a gas station that serves up Blue Moon Cheeseburgers, and a barn that hosts the Rosine Jamboree every Friday night. Between recording sessions for their debut album, Old Dreams and New Dreams, The Steep Canyon Rangers sojourned there, played at the jamboree, visited Monroe's house and left their mark on it all.
Produced by original New Grass Revival maverick Curtis Burch, the album was recorded in nearby Barren County, Ky., on the same analog tape machine as ZZ Top's Eliminator LP. The album opens with a serene, starlit reverie during a tumultuous ride on a "Big Jet Airplane." The remaining tracks continue to incorporate modern themes with "newgrass" virtuosity, but with a definite deference to the genre's elder statesmen.
"Little Cabin Home on the Hill," the album's only cover song, follows Monroe's original formula and features Lizzie Hamilton and Burch on double fiddles. The rest of the tracks seem to orbit wistfully around Monroe's old cabin. "Summer's Gone" longs for a simpler time and place: "Barns hooked up to satellite dishes/Old trucks with cell phones keep me wishing/For a time in my mind so sweet and slow." Elsewhere, Graham Sharp's lyrics--especially on the title track--suggest the playful prudence of a John Prine record, and vocalist Woody Platt howls more like a honky-tonker than a nasally tenor. Old Dreams uniquely captures Monroe's high lonesome sound, eschewing electrification in favor of complex vocal harmonies.
To cut this record, The Steep Canyon Rangers went all the way to the cradle of bluegrass, but these young North Carolina pickers still hold fast to their string-music roots. The band pays homage to hometown tradition on the final cut, which recounts an evening that Sharp spent at the annual Bass Mountain Festival in southern Alamance County.
On Wed., March 28, The Rangers come back home for a CD release party at The Hideaway in Chapel Hill.