Familiarity with Peter Rowan might entail being a fan of the 1973 New Riders of the Purple sage hit (and we use that term loosely) "Panama Red." Rowan, a guitarist and mandolin player from Boston, wrote it after working with everyone in bluegrass from Bill Monroe to David Grisman and Jerry Garcia. His accomplishments in music are vast and varied, even if he hasn't become a household name. On Sunday, The Tao of Bluegrass (A Portrait of Peter Rowan), a documentary on the picker, screens at The Belfry at 6:30 pm. Tickets are $8 at bendticket.com. And, on Tuesday, Rowan plays at The Belfry. Why not make it a complete week of Rowan by brushing up on his discography?
Muleskinner Self Titled (Warner Bros., 1974)
The super group, which included a guitarist from the Byrds and Grisman, was at the crossroad of the newgrass movement and outlaw country, and backed with a drummer who sounds like he just ditched a honky tonk to join the band. Unfortunately, the group left a thin catalog of recorded material. The schizoid nature of Muleskinner's song selections—including renditions of "Muleskinner Blues" and "Rain and Snow"—finds the ensemble veering from traditional string band selections to raucous rock compositions. In between, though, instrumental confections push the pace Bill Monroe initially envisioned for the genre to its breaking point.
Old & in the Way Self Titled (Rounder Records, 1975)
During the early '70s, Jerry Garcia took a break from the Grateful Dead and convened this group, humoring his obsession with traditional American folk music. Grisman crops up again, as does fiddler Vassar Clements alongside Rowan. In contrast to the Muleskinner recordings, Rowan and company pursue a purist's perspective on bluegrass (apart from taking a mundane stab at "Wild Horses"). The album also includes an early rendition of Rowan's "Moonlight Midnight," which eventually became part of the Jerry Garcia Band's regular set list.
Peter Rowan The Old School (Compass Records, 2013)
Heralding a transition to a new perspective on bluegrass early in his career, Rowan has become a fixture of the genre after recording for almost 50 years. That kind of longevity explains a relatively restrained release from last year, where his voice is noticeably frail compared to earlier works, but benefits significantly from ensemble support. His guitar picking remains undiminished. When it all comes together, see the track "Ragged Old Dream," it is almost as combustible as work from when Rowan helmed Muleskinner.
Tues., April 29
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