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The Very Best of Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys

Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys

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Album Review

Bill Monroe's recorded legacy resides in the vaults of three major labels. His RCA Victor recordings are controlled by BMG, his Columbia sides are in the possession of Sony, and his Decca/MCA tracks are claimed by Universal. Monroe signed to Decca in November 1949 at the age of 38 and remained with it and its successor, MCA, until his death in 1996. His catalog with the label is vast, but uneven. In its strategy of putting into the marketplace compilations at different price points, MCA issued a four-disc box set, The Music of Bill Monroe, in 1994 and a discount-priced collection, 20th Century Masters — The Millennium Collection: The Best of Bill Monroe, in 1999. The Very Best of Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys supersedes the label's now out-of-print 1991 album Country Music Hall of Fame as a single-disc, full-priced examination of his Decca/MCA years. It chooses 22 tracks at a running time of less than an hour, ranging from Monroe's first recording session for Decca in 1950 to a 1981 MCA session. Since Monroe didn't really score hits in this period (his two country chart entries, "Scotland" and "Gotta Travel On," are included), the compiler must make many subjective choices to augment certain obvious favorites such as "Uncle Pen," and Mary Katherine Aldin has leaned toward familiar songs from the pens of such well-known figures as Hank Williams ("I Saw the Light") and Jimmie Rodgers ("New Mule Skinner Blues"). She has also included four re-recordings of songs that were successful for Monroe on Columbia in the 1940s. And she has avoided chronological sequencing in favor of a mixed approach. The result is more a sampler than a real best-of, only emphasizing the necessity for the Monroe fan to obtain collections from each of the labels for which Monroe recorded.

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