In honor of the 100th birthday of Bill Monroe, The Del McCoury Band presents Old Memories: The Songs of Bill Monroe. The McCoury Music/RED release offers up a unique mix of well-known Monroe favorites and lesser-known rarities while highlighting Del’s signature guitar-playing and lead vocals, backed by his road-tested crack-band of sons Ronnie (mandolin) and Rob (banjo), along with stalwarts Jason Carter (fiddle) and Alan Bartram (bass).
Opening with the sprightly “Watermelon on the Vine,” the selections that comprise Old Memories harken back to Del’s 1963-64 tenure with Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys. The present-day Del McCoury Band have fashioned a dream setlist consisting of prime Monroe cuts like “Rose of Kentucky” blended with tracks that might be unfamiliar to all but the most knowledgeable Monroe acolytes, like the Hank Williams-penned “Alabama Waltz,” and Bill Monroe’s vocal version of the bluegrass rarity “Train 45 (Heading South).” Del’s excellent guitar-work throughout Old Memories deftly quotes the run-heavy styling of legendary sideman Edd Mayfield who served intermittently in Monroe’s band throughout the 1950’s. Just listen to Del’s break on “Used to Be.”
Other highlights include “Heavy Traffic Ahead,” a fantastic rendition of the Monroe classic “Close By,” and a one-two-three punch of “blues” cuts peppered throughout Old Memories, consisting of “Lonesome Truck Driver’s Blues,” “Lonesome Road Blues,” and Jimmie Rodgers’ classic ‘Brakeman’s Blues.”
By the familiar opening notes of the closing “Ya’ll Come,” it is self-evident that Old Memories: The Songs of Bill Monroe stands apart from other Monroe tributes flooding the market this year. Old Memories is the sound of a modern-day bluegrass legend acknowledging his own debt to the Father of Bluegrass while commemorating the true essence of both men in the process.