Peter Rowan & Crucial Country: Live at Telluride CD

This is one of those CDs that should be given the same treatment as a good novel. While it’s a perfect disc to spin during a gathering with your best kinfolk, it should also be heard on your lonesome at some point; take a long drive through the country with it. Only then can you really absorb all of the nuances and the story telling that made it such a great performance.
Recorded during 1994's Telluride Bluegrass Festival, this is a set of music worth owning. Peter Rowan (lead vocals/guitar) and his band (call them friends) know how to bring a pure bluegrass sound while slipping through unpredictable side streets. Not to skirt Rowan's band mates, as they are masters of their crafts, they including the legendary singer and mandolin/fiddle player Sam Bush (Newgrass Revival), singer and dobro player Jerry Douglas (Union Station), upright bassist Viktor Krauss (Lyle Lovett), percussionist Kester Smith (Taj Mahal) and drummer Larry Atamanuik (Union Station). This fine recording of a day gone right, 12 years past, is just now being released, but it's better late than never.

Peter Rowan wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on this CD, except the Vincent Ford tune Bob Marley made famous, "No Woman No Cry," which is given a special interpreted significance here, making it one to hear amongst the thousands of interpretations in existence. It's certainly not the same old thing, with the percussion skipping into just right places and all of the strings lending a joyous sound. "Deal With the Devil" tells a familiar story of a handshake gone bad, "The Walls of Time" (Co-written by Bill Monroe) addresses the movement that takes all things away, the oft-covered "Panama Red" ambles in for a 10min 38 sec romp and the upbeat "Rainmaker," even in its story of urgent need for some H2O, is a foot stomper.

Out of "Land of the Navajo" flows the song called "Ancient Tones," one of my favorites here. The music starts solemnly, but strong (Krauss is a constant drive), with Native American singing pouring overhead as Bush fiddles up a storm, Douglas and Rowan swinging right along. "Ancient Tones" is an exemplary exercise in tension and release, truly a perfect closer to a top-notch set of music and just another reason to hear this one.

- Jeremy Sanchez