The Rounder compilation Bill Monroe Centennial Celebration: A Classic Bluegrass Tribute
anticipates what might have been the 100th birthday of the father of bluegrass music (September 13, 2011) by delving into the label's archives for 28 songs credited to Monroe
(even if, as Bill Nowlin points out in his excellent liner notes, those tunes were occasionally adapted from older sources or even purchased from other songwriters) and performed by a bevy of his descendents, including Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, and Dan Tyminski. The heavy lifting is actually performed by such multiple participants as the Bluegrass Album Band (with five selections), Michael Cleveland, and Joe Val & the New England Bluegrass Boys
(with three each). Since Monroe is honored as the founder of bluegrass, those who play it are almost forced to copy him in the instrumentation of his band -- mandolin, fiddle, guitar, bass -- and in his high tenor vocals, and the artists here largely do that. When, for instance, a piano is heard on Skaggs' version of "Toy Heart," it's almost a shock, and the female vocals of Hazel & Alice
on "True Life Blues" also constitute a novelty. But bluegrass is a virtuoso music, too, giving the instrumentalists leave to shine on their fast-paced solos, especially on the instrumentals, such as the lead-off track, the Bluegrass Album Band's "Tall Timber." And sometimes, there's actually a competition to replicate Monroe's high, lonesome vocal sound, as on "Dark as the Night, Blue as the Day," in which Cleveland, Tyminski, and Gill all take their turns. Nowlin estimates the number of Monroe's compositions at between 225 and 250, so this collection represents only a little over ten-percent of his output. Still, it's a good representation of his music as played by some of his most ardent followers.