Published Apr 19, 2018After a good half-century in the business, bluegrass great Peter Rowan has earned the right to rest on his laurels, but with this second new album in two years, he shows no signs of slowing down. Carter Stanley's Eyes is half homage, half memoir; Rowan pays tribute to Carter and Ralph Stanley as well as Bill Monroe, the godfathers of the music he has loved and played for a good five decades, but he also tells the story of his own musical journey in the process.
The material includes old standards, like "The True And Trembling Brakeman" and A.P. Carter's "Will You Miss Me," and Stanley Brothers songs, like "Let Me Love You One More Time" and "Ridin' That Midnight Train." It also features a few Rowan originals, such as the well-known "Drumbeats on the Watchtower" (sometimes called "Wild Geese Cry Again"), and new ones like title track, "The Light In Carter Stanley's Eyes," a mostly spoken-word story of the time Monroe introduced a young Peter Rowan to Carter Stanley. Penned by anyone else, this sort of song might be seen as gratuitous namedropping, but coming from a guy like Rowan, it's a charming addition to the genre's lore.
Well-known bluegrass musicians lend their instrumental and vocal talents to the recording, including Tim O'Brien (guitar), Blaine Sprouse (fiddle), Don Rigsby (mandolin), and Patrick Sauber (banjo), so it's as authentic-sounding as you'd expect a tribute to bluegrass greats to be. But Rowan is no purist. He includes a straight-ahead folk song, "Take My Ashes"; he injects Bill Monroe's "Can't You Hear Me Calling" with an unexpected jam band groove; and he even includes subtle drums on a couple of tracks, a serious faux pas to traditionalists, but actually a common feature on bluegrass records of a certain era.
The highlight of the album is Peter Rowan's velvety, lilting tenor. His "Bluegrass Boy" voice is as clear and beautiful as ever. (Rebel Records)