Andy Statman- Monroe Bus review

Andy Statman Monroe Bus Shefa Records

…it became clear to me how the music one plays and writes is a reflection of the life a person lives.

                   -Andy Statman, liner notes to Monroe Bus

Indeed. Andy Statman has had quite the journey.

Raised in Queens in a family of musicians, cantors, and composers, Statman’s path may have been predetermined. Growing up during the 1950s and 60s, Statman was exposed to the vibrancy of the music of his youth, klezmer, show tunes, and religious sounds through early rock ‘n’ roll as well as folk and—at age twelve—bluegrass.

Statman’s musical biography is readily available elsewhere, so I’ll simply mention that he has played on scores of albums—including his own, with David Grisman, and early Rounder albums with Country Cooking and Breakfast Special—is a recognized master on mandolin and clarinet, and received a National Heritage Award from the National Endowment of the Arts.

I am well familiar with the geometric rhombus and the puzzling rebus (and Rebus), but am less familiar with the shape, complexity, and mystery of the Monroe Bus. I do appear to enjoy it thoroughly!

On Monroe Bus, Statman explores the range of his inspiration. Initially intended as an exploration of Bill Monroe tunes, the album morphed into a collection of self-composed instrumentals on which Monroe’s impact can be both felt and heard.

“Ain’t No Place For a Girl Like You” and “Brooklyn Hop” are fairly intense rockin’ pieces, equally propelled by the groove of Glenn Patscha’s Hammond organ—we come suspiciously close to “Green Onions” at one point near the conclusion of “Ain’t No Place…”—as by the interplay between Statman’s mandolin and Michael Cleveland’s fiddle. Yes, Michael Cleveland, the brazen bluegrass traditionalist, adds his special charm and flair to two-thirds of the album.

If it weren’t for the organ, drums, and choir of clarinets, “Statman Romp” and “Reminiscence” could fair well be Monroe tunes, the latter a moody, introspective piece suggestive of Monroe’s final work. Despite this liberal approach to bluegrass-rooted sounds, or perhaps because of it, these tunes cause one to appreciate the stretching Statman and his companions do throughout Monroe Bus.

Free your mind of preconceptions then as you approach this album of breakdowns, jazz-influenced explorations, and traditionally-based rock jams. “Mockingbird” hurriedly flies in a path woven of intensity and light, while “Reflections” is comprised of dark and even foreboding elements, a languid showcase for Statman and double bassist Jim Whitney.

Guitarist Michael Daves guests on a handful of numbers, including the album’s most traditional-sounding bluegrass piece “Raw Ride” and the swinging title track. Statman’s pick dances across his compositions, with a worldly blues-tinge on “Old East River Road” and with Monroe-like intensity on “Lakewood Waltz.” Beautiful, impactful sounds.

Bill Monroe unleashed upon the world a music brewed from influence. Those who have sipped from this concoction have added their own dramatic contributions, often taking the music in unexpected directions. Such a project is Monroe Bus: it isn’t going to replace my copies of Southern Flavor, Bill Monroe Sings Country Songs, and the like, but it adds to the spectrum of Monroe’s complex musical legacy.

[Review based on supplied CD.]

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