A powerful two-CD overview of Bill Monroe's 30-plus years recording for Decca/MCA, Anthology picks up in 1950 with a spirited reworking of "New Mule Skinner Blues" and sets down in 1981, with one of the bluegrass pioneer's final recordings, the poignant instrumental "My Last Days on Earth," which features a lovely string arrangement by none other than Bill McElhiney, best known for the dazzling work he did for Patsy Cline. The set features several re-recordings of early classics (including the post-Elvis 1954 version of "Blue Moon of Kentucky" that incorporates the Hillbilly Cat's up-tempo flair), but in keeping with Monroe's style, these discs showcase the master's interest in a wide range of material, both in his originals and in covers drawn from black gospel and blues, folk songs, and traditional and contemporary country fare, such as A. P. Carter's "Jimmy Brown the Newsboy" and "The Long Black Veil." Vocally, Monroe was at his peak during these years, his voice a mature, expressive, and bold instrument on its own, almost as much of a story as his mandolin work. And though Flatt & Scruggs had left the fold by this time, Monroe never hurt for gifted musicians in the Bluegrass Boys. The names that pop out on this set include guitarist Jimmy Martin; fiddlers Kenny Baker, Vassar Clements, Gordon Terry, and Charlie Cline; bassists Ernie Newton and Besse Lee Mauldin; and guitarist Del McCoury, who shares a lively lead vocal with Monroe on "Roll On, Buddy, Roll On." And not the least of Anthology's virtues is its spotlighting of Monroe as a mandolin virtuoso. He did it all. Hitting every high note of a 30-year run is too much to ask of two CDs, but only curmudgeons could grouse about Anthology's omissions. What's here is choice.