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Roland White “I Wasn’t Born to Rock ‘n Roll” Tompkins Square

It took thirty-four years for “I Wasn’t Born to Rock ‘n Roll” to be reissued on cd, and we should be thankful to Tompkins Square for seeking out lost treasures like this.

Roland White may not be as immediately recognizable outside of bluegrass circles as names like Bill Monroe or Lester Flatt, but he has played mandolin in both Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys and Flatt’s Nashville Grass.  He was also a member of the legendary Kentucky Colonels with his brother Clarence, who went on to play with the Byrds before his tragic death in 1973.  Roland later played in Country Gazette, as well as the Nashville Bluegrass Band.

Roland is somewhat atypical for bluegrass singers, as his voice is pretty laid back, lacking the whine so common in the genre.  While that might be a negative to some, it also makes this album more palatable for many outside of diehard fans of the style.  The vocals are very pleasant and give a little different feel to the songs here; that laid back feel is also apparent in the music.  While the members of Country Gazette (who all play on this album) are certainly great pickers, it never sounds like the songs are just challenges to see how fast they can play.

Outside of the A.P. Carter song “The Storms Are on the Ocean,” the songs here are all ones Country Gazette had been performing on stage for a year or more prior to recording.  In the new liner notes (which also include a note from Gene Parsons of the Byrds), Roland speaks of the musical freedom and the good friendships in the band, saying it was “about the most fun picking and singing I’ve ever done.”  It shows because the whole record is infused with a lot of energy.   And there’s great picking to match, including the more than seven-and-a-half minute song, “Marathon” where Roland and the boys race through parts of six different songs including “Nine Pound Hammer” and “Sittin’ on Top of the World.”  According to Roland on www.thebluegrassblog.com, some DJs had told him they liked that song because it gave them a restroom break.  Roland wonders if any other song got airplay because that.  There’s plenty here that deserves to get played, including great covers from the likes of Flat & Scruggs (“If I should Wander Back Tonight”), Bill Monroe (“Can’t You Hear Me Calling”), and A.P. Carter (“The Storms Are on the Ocean”), as well as Molly O’day’s instrumental “Texas Gales” (recorded 1967 by Doc Watson) which shows how good an arrangement with just mandolin and banjo can be.  In addition to the traditional songs are three songs by John Hadley (“She is Her Own Special Baby” was not on the original release.) and the first recording of “Powder Creek” – a beautiful instrumental that Roland wrote with his brother Clarence in 1963.

Not being a diehard bluegrass fan, it’s a little hard to comment on how important this record may or may not be in the progression of the form.  Regardless,  it’s a very accessible bluegrass album by great pickers that’s just a lot of fun.  It’s so easy-going, it kind of creeps up on you.

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