Blue Grass Special is not another Bill Monroe "best of" package but a collection that concentrates on the master's pre-bluegrass work, featuring recordings made in 1940 and 1945. While listeners can certainly enjoy these songs for what they are -- good music -- many will be searching for traces of what would later be labeled bluegrass. The first 16 cuts feature guitarist Clyde Moody, violinist Tommy Magness, and bassist Bill Westbrook, and were recorded before wartime restrictions curtailed studio activity. The lead vocal on a song like "Six White Horses" brings to mind the smooth, relaxed delivery of Lester Flatt. The fiddle, not the mandolin, drives the song, however, and there is no trace of harmony singing. The fiddle even takes the lead position on the instrumental "Katy Hill." On the early-1945 recordings, there is the curious inclusion of an accordion. Played by Sally Ann Forrester, this instrument creates lots of atmosphere on "Kentucky Waltz." It also has the effect of adding Cajun spice to Appalachian folk on "Rocky Road Blues," creating a unique hybrid (Cajun-grass?). On the last few cuts, a new sound begins to emerge that would be associated with Monroe for the next 50 years. This collection will appeal to different groups for different reasons. Old-time music lovers will enjoy a portrait of Monroe before he strayed from his roots while hardcore bluegrass fans will enjoy tracing his footsteps as they moved toward a brand new genre. Either way, Blue Grass Special offers a closer look at a moment in time when the music that would one day be called bluegrass came into being.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.