Peter Rowan - Carter Stanley's Eyes
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Carter Stanley's Eyes (Rebel, 2018)

Peter Rowan

Reviewed by John Lupton

To say that the music and career of Peter Rowan have been eclectic would be something of an understatement, given that over his more than half-century on the American music scene he has been associated with bands including Old And In The Way, Seatrain, Free Mexican Airforce and Earth Opera. Yet, as a Boston-area teenager in the late 1950s, he became entranced with the bluegrass he was hearing locally from legends like the Lilly Brothers and Joe Val, and by his mid-twenties had landed himself the plum job as lead singer and guitarist in Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys. It was during his time with Monroe that he also met and had the chance to perform at the Newport Folk Festival with the Stanley Brothers, Carter and Ralph.

In the title track of this collection, Rowan recounts driving with Monroe to a mountain top in Virginia to talk with Carter Stanley in the final months before Carter's passing in December 1966 and receiving a blessing of sorts. Throughout the remaining 13 tracks, Rowan revisits the music he cut his professional teeth on - the Monroe and Stanley sound that dyed-in-the-wool bluegrass fans are talking about when they say "high lonesome." And, as he's proven over and over again in the years since, when he decides to do bluegrass, there are few who can match Rowan. This is a trip back through time, guided by a man who was there and was part of it all.

Three of the songs, including the title track, are Rowan originals, and he draws directly on the Stanley catalog ("Ridin' On That Midnight Train," "Too Late To Cry," "A Vision of Mother," "Let Me Love You One More Time") as well as Monroe ("Can't You Hear Me Calling"). There's much appeal as well in tunes from a variety of the artists who were contemporaries - the Louvin Brothers ("A Tiny Broken Heart"), Huddie Ledbetter ("Alabama Bound") and the Carter Family ("Will You Miss Me"), to name a few.

Rowan refers to the Stanleys and Monroe in the liner notes as the "backbone" of the music, but he provides the backbone to the entire album with vocals and arrangements that are resonantly true to the originals. He's helped out by an outstanding cast that's too long to list, but Don Rigsby (another Stanley disciple) deserves mention for his harmony vocals. For those who still prefer their bluegrass in the "high lonesome" vein, this is one of the best albums to come along in a while.

CDs by Peter Rowan

Carter Stanley's Eyes, 2018 Peter Rowan's Twang An' Groove Vol. 1, 2014 The Old School, 2013 Legacy, 2010

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