Audie Blaylock: Doing Mr. Bill proud (Photo: Kim Davis & Mike Stangeland)
Timeless Is The Operative Term
Audie Blaylock and Redline Craft a Memorable Bill Monroe Tribute
By David McGee
I’M GOING BACK TO OLD KENTUCKY
Audie Blaylock and Redline
Much verbiage has poured forth in this publication in 2011 in honor of Mr. Bill Monroe’s centennial birth year, but in the end the ever-reliable Audie Blaylock and Redline have got it right: the music speaks most profoundly of the man. With a few choice special guests selectively joining the festivities (Ronnie McCoury becomes a de facto Redline member by adding his mandolin discourses to each and every selection; Blueline mandolinist Jason Wood joined the band after this album was recorded, replacing the departed Jason Johnson), the assembled musicians honor the father of bluegrass by considering anew a dozen songs Monroe either wrote or covered in his distinguished career. One of the most chilling performances on the album is the stark, foreboding treatment of Monroe’s own “On The Old Kentucky Shore,” concerning a man contemplating suicide after the death of “the fair young maiden” he loved. Ronnie McCoury’s mandolin and Patrick McAvinue’s fiddle express the narrator’s unceasing anguish, as Blaylock takes a strong, assertive lead vocal and is shadowed by a fatalistic, high, crying tenor, courtesy Del McCoury in one of his most memorable vocals of recent years. Dark themes permeate Monroe’s music and come in many forms, not all of them as cataclysmic as “On the Old Kentucky Shore.” In Jimmy C. Newman’s “Cry Cry Darlin’,” for instance, the singer reflects on the devastation ensuing from a breakup that hasn’t happened, and may well not, according to all available evidence. Blaylock’s reading of this is properly even-keeled but affecting; he leaves it to the keening triple-fiddle cries sent up by McAvinue, Glenn Duncan and Jason Carter to express the deepest sorrow the singer prophesies. Taking yet another tack, in Joe and Juanita Pennington’s high stepping “In Despair,” a parting foretold by the singer’s friends has come to pass; while lamenting the many ways he was done wrong, the aggrieved party—voiced not only by Blaylock but also by Bobby Osborne and Lou Reid—evinces an unvanquished soul, wounded but persevering, as the music surges forward, with Reed Jones keeping the bottom steady on bass as McAvinue on fiddle and Russ Carson on banjo supply strutting solos.
Be ye not dismayed that Blaylock and company are here soley to wallow in the sorrow Mr. Bill fashioned into an art form. The joy of a reunion—with both a place and a person close to his heart—is the animating impulse of the hard charging album opener and this album’s title track, “I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky,” complete with a warm, spirited vocal by Lou Reid and breathtaking ensemble and solo work, with Ronnie McCoury cutting out on a dazzling, typically impossible mandolin run near the song’s end, and both McAvinue and Carson making sure the fiddle and banjo get their two cents’ worth in as well as the music takes flight. “My Little Georgia Rose,” a Monroe original, is a joyous, driving workout centered lyrically on the story of a girl, abandoned by her shiftless mother, who grows into a fine young lady, the apple of the singer’s eye. This triumph over adverse circumstances is celebrated equally in Blaylock’s cheery vocal (his rise into a falsetto on the word “rose” at the end is one of the album’s subtle delights, as it serves to underscore the narrator’s unrestrained affection for his gal) and in the band’s sheer exuberance, with Ronnie McCoury once again interjecting a circuitous mandolin solo into the mix to enhance the ebullient mood. It wouldn’t be a Bill Monroe tribute without a taste of bluegrass gospel, and so it is that these musicians offer up a beautifully harmonized rendition of Carl Story’s “Lord Lead Me On,” straightforward but celebratory, a simple message (inspired by Psalm 27) for spiritual guidance through stormy times rendered in impeccable three-part harmony and spiced with McCoury’s to-the-point mandolin punctuations. Like so much of Mr. Bill’s music, “Lord Lead Me On” is as relevant today as it was when Monroe first recorded it—timeless it the operative term here. Audie Blaylock and Redline, with a major contribution from Ronnie McCoury, in one fell swoop have done Bill Monroe, Monroe’s legacy and themselves proud.