Reviews for Monroe Approved

By Joe Ross - Independent Reviewer and Deejay.

Chris Henry started playing mandolin when he was just nine. A few years later, he took up guitar. By age twelve, Henry was playing, touring and recording with his parents' bluegrass group, Red and Murphy & their Excellent Children. Bill Monroe once heard Chris playing "Rawhide" backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, and the Father of Bluegrass proceeded to put his hat on Chris' head and clog around the room. Thus, the seed for "Monroe Approved" was planted. After moving to Nashville in 2003, charismatic Chris spent a season playing with Dave Peterson and 1946. Now, his solo debut project presents a set of traditional, original, Bill Monroe, and even a Woody Guthrie/Sisco Huston song, "Bed on the Floor." Chris Henry demonstrates his talent with mandolin and guitar, as well as a lead and harmony vocalist ("Listen to the Lonesome Train").

A strong proponent and advocate of Monroe-style mandolin, Chris shows that he has strong mastery of the bluesy scales, hammer-ons, pull-offs, downstrokes, and other techniques that Bill used to evoke so much tone and emotion from his 8-stringed instrument. The ancient tones may be best captured in the traditional "Paddy on the Turnpike," but there are numerous other fiery moments in this album. "James River" was nicely arranged for some hot melodic licks to be traded between Charlie Cushman's banjo, Jason Carter's fiddle, and Chris' guitar and mandolin. Another highlight is the twin mandolins with mandola featured in "Farewell to Long Hollow." That cut features well-known Nashville multi-instrumentalist John Hedgecoth on banjo, who's also seen around town with the Nashville Jug Band, Nashville Mandolin Ensemble and Butch Baldassari Trio. Baldassari co-produced this album, and he appears on that same cut.

Chris Henry also invited some of his family, mentors and other friends to participate. Casey Henry, Alan O'Bryant, or Charlie Cushman pick banjo with precision and fire. Chris says his father Red Henry's "Red's Zeppelin" is his favorite tune. Presumably inspired by guitarist David McLaughlin, "King David" features David's lead guitar work. Chris appears on half of guitarist/vocalist Adam Olmstead's own debut album, and he repays that unpretentious performer by having him sing and play the closing number, "Bed on the Floor." Other guitarists who appear on the album include Roland White, Ronnie McCoury, and Robert Bowlin (the 1979 national guitar champion). Besides Casey Henry, multi-year IBMA bass player of the year Mike Bub lays in that solid low end foundation and cornerstone for each tune. The title cut, an 8-minute medley of three tunes, is a bit problematic due to its length and the overuse of Monroe's voice mixed in from Homespun Tapes' "The Mandolin of Bill Monroe" instructional material. The hidden bonus track that appear when all is picked and done turns out to be Frank Wakefield's "Catnip."

There's much to like about this pleasant and delightful album. The "Monroe Approved" stamp comes with down-home good-time quality assurance. While Bill is gone, I'm sure that Chris and his friends fully certify and warrant this musical undertaking. Mando fans will find the originals to be quite charming. Assertive but still somewhat playful, Chris Henry picks and sings with substance and charm. The various musicians all work well together, and the album emits an air of amiable geniality that characterizes the kinship of family and friends. Just as Bill Monroe was known as "Big Mon," we may some day know Chris Henry as "Big Hen" if he keeps producing music like this. ~Joe Ross