I'm Old Kentucky Bound
The older brother of bluegrass legend Bill Monroe (the brothers played and recorded together as the Monroe Brothers from 1936 to 1938), Charlie Monroe will always stand slightly in the shadow of Bill's considerable legacy, but his own body of work is solid and impressive on its own merits. Playing a mixture of bluegrass, string band, and country with just a bit of a honky tonk stance for seasoning, Monroe and his many versions of the Kentucky Pardners recorded numerous sides for RCA Victor and Decca between 1938 and 1956, the period covered by this four-disc box set from Bear Family, and if the material falls frequently to the generic side of the line, there are also several moments of inspired joy and musical brilliance. By his own admission, Monroe wasn't much of a songwriter, and his favorite ploy was to lightly tinker with traditional mountain folk tunes and then give them new titles, often then recording that same song a second time with yet another title, so listening to this set is a bit like wandering into a hall of endlessly reflecting mirrors, but several do stand out, including "When the World's on Fire, Pt. 2," a spinoff of the 1930 Carter Family song that would later lend its melody to Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land"; a sturdy "Red Rocking Chair," which bears a strong resemblance to Dock Boggs' "Sugar Baby," although the melody is a common one and Boggs undoubtedly borrowed it as well; a marvelous, definitive version of the murder ballad "Down in the Willow Garden," which G.B. Grayson had previously recorded in 1928 as "Rose Conley"; plus the closest thing Monroe had to a hit, the fun and exuberant "Bringin' in the Georgia Mail." More workmanlike and less flashy and forward-thinking than his brother Bill (although Charlie was featuring electric guitar in his band as early as 1943), Charlie Monroe still delivered the goods more often than not, and if he'll forever be remembered as the other Monroe brother, he never rode coattails and his body of work, most of which is contained here, is well worth seeking out for a listen.