Al Shusterman, “Backroads Bluegrass,” KCBL Radio, Sacramento CA, January 2012
JOY JOY JOY
After listening to this project it definitely puts ‘joy in my heart’ & a smile on my face. From the start of ‘Life's Railway to Heaven’ to the last note of ‘I'll Fly Away,’ Monroe Crossing takes you on a Gospel experience that won't let you forget. They feature superb lead & harmony singing, top notch song arrangement, & incredible instrumental work. One of the best gospel projects I have heard in a long, long time! I can't wait to share it with my listeners. Thank you for sharing this fine project with us.
David McGee, Bluegrass Special, October, 2009 11/09
HEARTACHE & STONE
Bluegrass being music means it knows no boundaries, so hearing some of the finest of its kind coming from the frozen north of Minnesota is unsurprising. Those being introduced to Monroe Crossing via Heartache & Stone will need venture no further into the disc than, oh, the second cut to understand fully why the quintet is newly inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame.
This record has more heart than any half dozen other records you’re likely to encounter any time soon, and musicianship on a par with the best of the breed. They can do barnburning, as on a sizzling rendition of lead singer/fiddler Lisa Fuglie’s “Run, Nellie Anna, Run,” with a breathless frenzy and superbly executed, rapid-fire runs by banjo man Benji Flaming and mandolin virtuoso Matt Thompson; they can do balladry with an equally deft and subtle touch, as they demonstrate on the lovely midtempo yearnings expressed in Kathy Liner’s evocative “Coming Home To You,” a fine, heart tugging performance keyed by Fuglie’s emotional vocal and exhilarating instrumental dialogue between Flaming’s banjo and Art Blackburn’s sturdy acoustic guitar runs.
They have an element of surprise going for them too: Stephen Stills’s “4+20” is a certifiable classic of early CS&N lore, and Stills’s own acoustic version is really hard to beat, instrumentally or vocally. But Blackburn finds his way into, through and out of the song on his own terms, not by emulating Stills’s spare, foreboding fingerpicking or haunted vocal, but rather by breaking the song down to a signature, repeating, multi-textured guitar figure, behind which his mates ease in with an appropriately low-key, humming backdrop, as Blackburn tells the story of a life’s hard, desolate road in a sturdy, resolute tenor. Some may miss Stills’s abject, solitary torment, but Blackburn offers a resolute attitude that, despite the lyrical wish for life to cease, suggests a determination to move forward, undaunted by the baggage strewn about his history.
And to tip their hat to a fellow Minnesotan, the gang actually works up a rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain” that picks up steam after the first verse and breaks into a full-on sprint fueled by Flaming’s energetic banjo soloing, Mark Anderson’s clicking-clacking standup bass, and rich, ensemble propulsiveness all down the line. The song still doesn’t make much sense, but considering its source, Monroe Crossing does an admirable job of making it seem coherent.
But above all, the band has in Lisa Fuglie a remarkable singer who doesn’t show off a lot of range so much as a lot of feeling, deeply and powerfully so. There’s a bit of Rhonda Vincent in her vocal attack, and some Valerie Smith too (interesting that one of the standout tracks here, “Raven Tresses,” from the pen of Smith’s bandmate Becky Buller, a native Minnesotan herself, finds Fuglie adding smooth harmony support to Blackburn’s foreboding lead vocal), but not so much that she could ever be accused of pilfering another's style. She can hold her own and stand out in a crowd all at once.
For one stirring example, check out what she does with her own hymn-like ballad, “Potter’s Field.” Based on an actual incident dating back to 2007, when the remains of 1900 unidentified people were buried in a mass grave in Los Angeles, the song is the proper farewell those forgotten souls were denied, and Fuglie sings it with an admirable balance of reportorial distance that rises in her upper register to palpable sorrow at the unfolding spectacle—“how does one get so forgotten to lie in an unmarked grave in Potter’s Field” she asks in a lyrical passage that pierces us where we live.
Fuglie gets way on the inside of any song she sings, whether her own or others’, and above all else, the humanity and the sheer embrace of life she imparts when she sings, makes every song special, a unique journey of its own, and elevates the music of Monroe Crossing to an exalted plane.
Vintage Guitar Magazine 11/09
HEARTACHE & STONE
Monroe Crossing’s laid-back “folkgrass” approach stands in contrast to many contemporary hyperkinetic bands, such as Kentucky Thunder. Their novel, soulful, and musically satisfying cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain” demonstrates their unique style.
International Alliance for Women in Music Journal, Volume 15, No. 1, 2009,
Joan Devee Dixon, Chair of Music Department, Frostburg State University, Maryland
THE WORLD BELOVED: A BLUEGRASS MASS
In the realm of twentieth and twenty-first century classical music, rarely is a new work declared a "masterwork" soon after its premiere. Such is the case, however, with Carol Barnett's The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass. Commissioned by Mike and Kay McCarthy for Philip Brunelle and VocalEssence in 2007, the vibrant work successfully blends the bluegrass band Monroe Crossing with one of America's best choral ensembles. Performances of Barnett's Bluegrass Mass have spread like wildfire across the USA.
The libretto by Marisha Chamberlain is, in and of itself, a treasure. Imagine standard mass movements (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) interspersed with verses of a folk ballad, a Gloria praising God "for feather, fur, for scale and fin," and a Credo affirming "Oh, I do believe a place awaits us far across the Jordan." This is not the text of the Roman Missal! The ballad recounts the Biblical story of Adam and Eve in a manner similar to an Appalachian storyteller. The work begins, "They say God loved the world so dear, He set aside His crown," and ends, "They say God loved the world so dear, She set aside Her crown," leaving some listeners perplexed and others in shock!
The pairing of Chamberlain's texts with Barnett's music makes an inseparable team (imagine Rodgers without Hammerstein). The music uplifts the poetry and interweaves the chorus and band into a masterful patchwork. One might expect simple harmonies and chords from a bluegrass piece for choir, but this is not the case. The harmonies are intricate and the rhythms are complex and, at times, rapid-fire. The Kyrie begins with a fortissimo "Mercy! Mercy!" - far from a quiet, repentant tone. Shifting meters and accented banjo chords propel the music forward. The Sanctus, set entirely in Latin, is anchored by a syncopated soprano/alto ostinato - again, not what one might expect. The musical setting of the opening ballad is expanded between subsequent movements, first adding a female voice and, eventually , the entire chorus. The lyrical and poignant Agnus Dei, sung a cappella, could easily stand on its own (as could several of the movements). Balancing the Agnus is a melancholy instrumental interlude, "Art Thou Weary?"
Hearing the work on the CD, one might not realize the female soloist (narrator) is from the band, not the choir. In true bluegrass style, Lisa Fuglie (lead vocals, fiddle, and mandolin), brings her distinctive voice to the forefront, while sharing the microphone with Mark Anderson (string bass and mandolin), Art Blackburn (vocals and guitar), Benji Fleming (banjo), and Matt Thompson (vocals, fiddle, and mandolin). One can only imagine how much Bill Monroe (the group's namesake) would have enjoyed this ensemble.
The liner notes describe how strange it was for the Monroe Crossing musicians to receive a printed score. They largely learned the piece by rote from MIDI files provided by Barnett. One player's score arrived from Kinko's bound backwards (and he still uses it that way!). Regardless of their discomfort with notated scores, these folk musicians are as finely-tuned as any classically trained ensemble.
Carol Barnett, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, is not new to the "choral music scene," working for eight years as the staff composer for Dale Warland. Still, this work has brought her to the forefront of American composers. Her prolific list of compositions is gaining new attention as a result, and rightly so (www.carolbarnett.net). The recording, produced at Studio M, Minnesota Public Radio in Saint Paul, is exceptional. Other recordings by VocalEssence (www.vocalessence.com) and Monroe Crossing (www.monroecrossing.com) can be found online, as can their exhaustive tour itineraries.
As one might expect, this "crossover" piece has attracted an unusual audience, bringing bluegrass musicians to choir concerts and causing choral directors to call upon banjo players. If you have any interest in the American choral or bluegrass scenes, this recording is not to be missed.
Matt Merta, Bluegrass Now magazine 06/08
LIVE FROM SILVER DOLLAR CITY
This is the eighth disc release by this Minnesota quintet, and the live recording from Branson, Missouri proves how popular Monroe Crossing is with fans. Rather than showcasing new material, they’ve chosen to perform newer versions of their most-requested selections.
From the opening cut, "Fox on the Run," through the final medley, "Sally Goodin/That’s What I Like about the South," it’s obvious that this is an entertaining band. The performances are tight without being flashy. The two lead singers, guitarist Art Blackburn and fiddler Lisa Fuglie (who does Patsy Cline justice on a bluegrass version of "Crazy") provide tasteful vocals without being ostentatious. Mandolinist Matt Thompson and bassist Mark Anderson add wonderful harmonies, as heard on the Lutheran hymn, "I Love to Tell the Story." Thompson and banjoist Benji Flaming engage in some friendly competition on the classic "Dueling Banjos," which also has some inspiring audience participation.
The generous 17-track collection includes compositions from Bill Monroe, Jim & Jesse, Dolly Parton, Don Gibson, and Becky Buller. It was recorded at Silver Dollar City over a four-day period in May/June 2007. Thompson is a charming emcee and deejays will be pleased to know there is a separate tracking for songs and introductions. Fans love Monroe Crossing and the band does not disappoint on this highly enjoyable album.
Bob Everhart, Tradition Magazine, National Traditional Country Music Assoc, Inc 06/08
LIVE FROM SILVER DOLLAR CITY
I’ve been following the music and career of Monroe Crossing for quite a long time now. I’m on their e-mail mailing list, so I know where they’re going to be almost all the time. Playing Silver Dollar City is certainly a treat. After working for SDC myself for some 25 years, I know what Silver Dollar City is all about. Monroe Crossing and SDC are a pretty good match.
This ‘live’ recording is pretty typical of all ‘live’ recordings. You can tell it is exactly that, but in this case, the sound at SDC is so good, and their technicians mix and balance so well, the instrumentation and vocalizing is just right. Harmony is a great asset of Monroe Crossing, it’s what puts them a step above most of our entire mid-west groups, including the hot ones coming out of Missouri. Their "Dueling Banjos" proves that beyond a shadow of a doubt.
You probably already know that Art Blackburn is the mover and shaker behind this group. He plays guitar and does lead and harmony vocals; Mark Anderson is on bass with harmony vocals; Benji Flaming on banjo; Matt Thompson on mandolin, 2nd fiddle and harmony; and the lead vocalist, very powerful, and very good is Lisa Fuglie who also plays fiddle and guitar. As a ‘live’ recording you hear a lot of introductions, etc., which is fine, it makes it more real, and in this case excellently done. This is an excellent CD, the audience response to Monroe Crossing is real, and it’s loud. They played(and recorded)in the Riverfront Playhouse, which is quite a large performance center with lots of folks watching the show. I like the banjo, it is such an integral part of bluegrass, and the sound and mix is just right, especially on "The Children Are crying," especially well done.
I have extended an invitation to Monroe Crossing to ‘showcase’ at our festival a number of times. We have to do that mostly because of the incredibly large number of groups and acts that want on. They won’t have to showcase for Silver Dollar City, they are already playing there, but we have lots of talent buyers looking for what they have, so here’s hoping they’ll take me up on that invitation one of these years. Lots of luck to this fine group. This is a FIVE STAR CD, and I am forwarding it to the Rural Roots Music Commission for possible qualification for album of the year.
Kevin Kerfoot, Bluegrass Music Profiles, May/June 2008 issue 05/08
LIVE FROM SILVER DOLLAR CITY
Minnesota’s Monroe Crossing is Lisa Fuglie, vocals, fiddle and guitar; Art Blackburn, vocals and guitar; Mark Anderson, bass and harmony vocals; Matt Thompson, mandolin and harmony vocals; and banjo player Benji Flaming. From "Fox On The Run" to the last notes of "Sally Goodin/That’s What I Like About The South," this is one enjoyable all-request live performance that shows MC’s great vocals and harmonies, thoughtful arrangements and wonderful musicianship. The band is featured wonderfully in the lively instrumental "Nail That Catfish To A Tree." Lisa’s beautiful, strong voice is prominently featured in most numbers including the bluesy "At Last," the traditional "Wayfaring Stranger," and the MC original "The Atlanta Church." Other standout instrumentals include Bill Monroe’s "Scotland" and "Rocky Road Blues." This is great, live traditional bluegrass!
Les McIntyre, Bluegrass Unlimited 05/08
LIVE FROM SILVER DOLLAR CITY
This latest recording from Minnesota's Monroe Crossing was recorded before an enthusiastic audience at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., and features more than an hour of music and good-natured banter. As expected, there are the usual crowd pleasers ("Fox On The Run" and "Dueling Banjos"), however there are plenty of special performances including Lisa Fuglie's emotional interpretation of "Crazy" and "At Last." Also included are original pieces such as "The Atlanta Church" and the instrumental number "Nail That Catfish To A Tree." Other noted performances include Becky Buller's "The Rain," as well as "Wayfaring Stranger" and Jim & Jesse's "Just Wondering Why." Some skillful emcee work adds continuity to the proceedings. This CD is indicative of Monroe Crossing's ability to perform before a live audience and is must listening for any serious bluegrass music aficionado.
Kerry Dexter, Tallahassee, FL, Dirty Linen magazine 05/08
LIVE FROM SILVER DOLLAR CITY and THE WORLD BELOVED: A BLUEGRASS MASS
Two very different aspects of the work of Minnesota bluegrass band Monroe Crossing are showcased in these two recordings. One is a collection of crowd favorite songs recorded over four days of live performance at Silver Dollar City theme park in Branson, Missouri. The other is a highly structured choral mass setting along with a selection of sacred songs arranged in the same style. One thing they have in common: The members of Monroe Crossing can really sing, and they are fine players as well. If you are expecting a folk sort of mass, or even one with really much bluegrass in it, from "The World Beloved," be prepared for the fact that the music is more choral than that. Interesting, yes, and no doubt a good collaboration for the musicians, but somehow it does not quite reach across the divide from performance to connection with the listener. On "Live From Silver Dollar City," the musicians are immersed in playing live, and it’s a different dimension to their work. Notable cuts include “Fox on the Run,” “Wayfaring Stranger,” and “Nail that Catfish to a Tree.”
Maria Morgan Davis, The Lonesome Road Review 05/08
LIVE FROM SILVER DOLLAR CITY
4 stars (out of 5)
In the spring of 2007, Monroe Crossing recorded four days of all-request shows at Branson’s Silver Dollar City. This album collects the cream of the crop, interspersing them with MC and mandolinist Mark Thompson’s slick stage patter to recreate the feeling of the live show. The result is a fine example of bluegrass and classic country Monroe Crossing style – versatile and energetic with a definite Midwestern accent.
They start things off a bracing, folk revivalist “Fox on the Run,” driven by Benji Flaming’s coruscating banjo. Flaming does a convincing impression of Little Richard’s piano, while guitarist Art Blackburn and bassist Mark Anderson lay down a kicking roots rock groove (showing why Bill Monroe is a cross-genre Hall of Famer) on “Rocky Road Blues.”
“20-20 Vision” proves that Monroe Crossing is just as comfortable with traditional grass as they are with the more modern style of Becky Buller’s “The Rain.” The latter boasts simultaneously the best vocal harmonies and the best solo vocal (from fiddler/vocalist Lisa Fuglie) on the album.
Fuglie is just as good on Jim & Jesse’s “Just Wondering Why,” conveying emotional fragility without using the standard technical cheat of breathy vocals. She’s the band’s ace in the hole during many of the “Oh, no, not that one!” moments that come up when a band starts taking requests. “Jolene” shimmers with Fuglie’s raw emotion, terrific trio harmonies, and Flaming’s relentless banjo. On “Crazy,” Fuglie retains that lovely vulnerability without overplaying it, and gets some beautiful mandolin backup from Thompson.
“At Last” (Yes, that one) is a particular fan favorite. Fuglie spins some wicked licks, but the song’s cocktail jazz structure doesn’t suit this or any other bluegrass band.
Earl Taylor’s ‘The Children Are Cryin’” should suit almost any bluegrass band. But, in a bit that may work better live, Thompson explains the bluegrass-specific tension between upbeat melodies and painful lyrics. Then, the band sidesteps the challenge with a parody so broad it would have given the cast of “Hee Haw” a run for their money.
They redeem themselves with a rambunctious canter through Bill Monroe’s “Scotland.” The band’s theme song, “Nail That Catfish to a Tree,” is equally as exciting (with what I’m guessing is Anderson using his doghouse bass as a bodhran), and could be considered an Irish-accented counterpart to “Scotland’s” simulated bagpipes.
In closing, Thompson tells the crowd that Monroe Crossing plays over 130 shows a year. “Live at Silver Dollar City” is a highly entertaining demonstration of why they’re in such high demand.
Brenda Hough, CBA on the Web Reviews 04/08
LIVE FROM SILVER DOLLAR CITY
Monroe Crossing can lay claim to being the most active bluegrass band in Minnesota, and their travels take them all over the country, including a memorable set of performances at the 2007 CBA Grass Valley Festival. Their harmonies are carefully blended and the instrumentation follows the bluegrass tradition with some fine mandolin, banjo, fiddle, guitar and bass work. The band members are Art Blackburn: guitar and vocals; Mark Anderson: bass and harmony vocals; Benji Flaming: banjo; Lisa Fuglie: fiddle and vocals; and Matt Thompson: mandolin, fiddle and vocals.
The recordings were made during the band’s performances at the Silver Dollar City in Branson MO, and the enthusiastic audience response is a testament to the band’s appeal and entertaining skills. The song mix is a delightful combination of bluegrass and country songs, and they are even brave enough to play "Fox on the Run." Lisa’s vocals are top-notch and she gives soulful performances of Dolly Parton’s "Jolene" and the Patsy Cline classic, "Crazy." Matt’s crisp mandolin accompaniment highlights the Jim and Jesse McReynolds song “Just Wondering Why” that features the band’s harmony vocals. Matt and Lisa also team up with twin fiddles and some bagpipe inspired tones on Bill Monroe’s “Scotland.” Art performs the lead vocal duties on a rollicking “Rocky Road Blues,” another Bill Monroe tune which isn’t surprising given the band’s name. Another crowd pleaser is Lisa’s bluesy version of Etta James’ “At Last.” Matt calls “Nail That Catfish to a Tree” the band theme song, and it certainly gives the band a chance to show their instrumental prowess. This band has it all – entertaining song selections, excellent musicianship and a contagious enthusiasm that will make bluegrass lovers out of any audience!
Joe Sixpack’s Hillbilly Record Riot Reviews, www.slipcue.com 04/08
LIVE FROM SILVER DOLLAR CITY
A nice, laid-back live album from this down-home Minnesota bluegrass crew... This is a jes'-plain-folks, back-porch kind of affair, perfect for fans that like the way acoustic instruments sound, but tune out when it all sounds a bit too slick. Monroe Crossing have put out a bunch of albums on their own, but they're still pretty much those neighbors of yours who got a little carried away with the whole festival thing, and started doing the bluegrass band full-time. You go to all their shows and hoot and holler, both because it's fun and also because you like seeing normal folks like yourself up there onstage. I like the repertoire: these folks tilt towards the Jimmy Martin wing of old-school bluegrass, mixing country tunes like "Crazy," "Oh Lonesome Me" and Dolly Parton's "Jolene" in, along with truegrass oldies from Jim & Jesse, Jimmy Martin and -- of course -- good ol' Bill Monroe. There's a smidge of gospel and, by my count, just one original tune, "The Atlanta Church," written by bassist Mark Anderson. Monroe Crossing aren't super-hotshot pickers or an ultra-professional all-star juggernaut, but that's a big part of their appeal: they are enthusiastic and full of pep, and about as down to earth as a bluegrass band can get. If that's the kind of music you like to hear, this album will be a breath of fresh air.
By Chris Heth, Bluegrass in the Valley, KNDS
The Spectrum, North Dakota State University 01/08
LIVE FROM SILVER DOLLAR CITY
It takes a lot of effort to make a living as a full time bluegrass band in the northern plains, and few understand that effort as well as the members of Monroe Crossing do. This Minnesota-based group has nearly 100 dates already booked for 2008, following up an intensive schedule in 2007. The portion of that schedule, which found them in Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo. from May 31 to June 3 resulted in the band’s second live album release, “Live From Silver Dollar City.”
Monroe Crossing is no stranger to the studio, with six studio albums to their credit that keep getting better and better each time. The greatest strength of this group, however, is their live show. Their ability to connect with a crowd within the first few notes of a set cannot be captured in a studio and must really be experienced live. This live album is the next best thing to being at a live show. The band does an excellent job of capturing the crowd’s enjoyment of the show in addition to showcasing the band’s musical prowess.
The songs chosen for this collection were all audience requests and demonstrate an excellent cross section of the band’s potential set lists. The album kicks off with the four-part stacking vocals of “Fox On The Run,” hinting at things to come as each band member gets opportunities to shine collectively and individually. They move smoothly from the traditional hymn “I Love to Tell the Story” into the more contemporary “Jolene” and “Wayfaring Stranger” (both done in fine bluegrass style), then into classic Jimmy Martin with “20-20 Vision.” Other highlights include “Dueling Banjos,” “Rocky Road Blues” and ending with a smoking hot rendition of “Sally Goodin’” and “That’s What I Like About the South.”
The group is led by guitarist Art Blackburn, who provides lead and harmony vocals to compliment his solid and tasteful guitar work. Art is joined by Lisa Fuglie with vocals and fiddle, Matt Thompson with vocals, mandolin and emcee duties, and Mark Anderson with harmony vocals and some of the most animated bass playing ever seen in a bluegrass band. Recently rejoining the group is Benji Flaming, and gifted banjo player and a charter member of Monroe Crossing.
William Randall Beard, Minneapolis Star Tribune 12/07
Carol Barnett, "The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass," VocalEssence Ensemble Singers and Monroe Crossing, directed by Philip Brunelle (Clarion)
Barnett manages to honor both the classical choral tradition and the improvisatory impulse of bluegrass music in her contemporary rendition of the mass. Poet Marisha Chamberlain creates lyrics giving each of the sections of the Catholic liturgy (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, etc.) a contemporary interpretation. She also intersperses verses of a bluegrass ballad elucidating a joyful spirituality. In the performances of the VocalEssence Ensemble Singers and the bluegrass band Monroe Crossing, both traditions are in good hands, with formality and jubilance well balanced in this life-affirming celebration.
The second half of the CD features the Ensemble Singers in more familiar repertoire: 10 selections by composers acknowledged by the National Endowment for the Arts in its choral initiative. Works by Ned Rorem and William Bolcom rub elbows with such local luminaries as Libby Larsen, Stephen Paulus, Aaron Jay Kernis and Randall Thompson. It's hard to imagine a more idiomatic performance of this survey of contemporary choral masters.
Bluegrass Now Magazine 08/07
INTO THE FIRE
Monroe Crossing, a Midwest bluegrass and gospel quintet, derives its name from Bill Monroe and plays old-time, straight ahead, traditional bluegrass. The Minnesota Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Association has honored them with multiple awards including "Bluegrass Album of the Year," "Best Female Vocalist," "Best Guitar Player," "Best Mandolin Player" and "Best Banjo Player." They will be inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in November of this year.
The band consists of Nigeria native, Lisa Fuglie on vocals, fiddle and mandolin. Art Blackburn contributes excellent vocals and guitar, while Matt Thompson supplies solid mandolin and vocals. Benji Flaming adds his exciting brand of banjo, notably on "One Life." Mark Anderson rounds out the group with a solid bass line. I especially enjoyed his slap bass on "The Old Cross Road."
Musical highlights of this all-gospel recording include the exhilarating "He Did Rise," "Get Thee Behind Me" and some impressive, staggered, three-part harmonies on "The Touch of God’s Hand." In short, harmony is a major strength of this group and it is no more apparent than on "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" and the energetic original title track.
The project contains excellent covers for Bill Monroe’s "The Old Cross Road," Don Reno’s "Oak Grove Church" and Gillian Welch’s "Orphan Girl." Additionally, the release includes songs from the repertoires of the Louvin Brothers ("Satan’s Jeweled Crown"), The Country Gentlemen ("Standing in the Need of Prayer"), The Dreadful Snakes ("Who’s That Knockin’ At My Door") and the Carter Family ("The Far Side Banks of Jordan"). While the titles may sound familiar, don’t be fooled. The arrangements are new, unique and captivating. Without question, bluegrass gospel enthusiasts will relish this recording.
Dan Servais, Fireball Mail 07/07
INTO THE FIRE
"Into the Fire," Monroe Crossing’s second gospel CD is a wonderful collection of the old and the new. This was my first chance to listen to Monroe Crossing and I must admit that the more I listened to it the more it "grew" on me. Recorded "live" with no over dubbing or slick production they achieved the desired effect. I could not hear any foibles or mistakes and they sounded like they were playing right in front of me. While I pay more attention to the music rather than the lyrics, one song in particular, "One Life," rather grabbed me. Like their byline said, "A message of tolerance and a rocking chorus too." Their tempo and harmony are excellent and their mix of songs was a great representation of their talent. If you like gospel, you’ll like this CD. An exciting band, I can’t wait to see them in person!
Les McIntyre, Bluegrass Unlimited 06/07
INTO THE FIRE
Monroe Crossing has been one of Minnesota's top bluegrass bands for several years with several recording projects to their credit. This latest venture is a gospel-oriented collection, featuring material from a myriad of sources. The band’s lineup currently consists of Lisa Fuglie (fiddle), Art Blackburn (guitar), Matt Thompson (mandolin), and Mark Anderson (bass). While Lisa’s prime instrument is the fiddle, she occasionally switches to other instruments. She is also featured on most of the lead vocals and contributed the title song. The 15 selections include stirring renditions of "The Touch Of God’s Hand," "Satan's Jeweled Crown," "The Far Side Banks Of Jordan," and "Get Thee Behind Me." "Into the Fire" is bluegrass gospel at its finest and is certain to bring new audiences to Monroe Crossing.
Bob Everhart, Tradition Magazine, National Traditional Country Music Association, Inc. 04/07
INTO THE FIRE
When bluegrass bands get really, really good, they sometimes create and play their music to impress fellow musicians, which often leaves the fans of good old-timey bluegrass somewhere out in the blue azure somewhere, not knowing for sure what kind of music they are listening to. Monroe Crossing, thank goodness isn’t doing that, though they are the very masterful musicians that could be doing that if they so chose to do so. The very “Greek” sounding mandolin beginning of the CD rapidly shifts to traditional bluegrass with “The Touch of God’s Hand.” This is one fine Gospel CD, full of afortiori message, prayer, hope, and certainly salvation. This fine Minnesota group keeps truth, belief, and sharing as their highest aspiration and they reveal all this in a CD that will surely stand high among the bluegrass aficionados that grow larger on a daily basis. They recorded this kind of ‘live’ meaning they did it in one or two takes. No audience to interfere or interject, so it turned out to be a grand experiment that worked quite well.
Being a close personal friend of Terry Smith, I am amply impressed with Monroe Crossing’s version of “Far Side Banks of Jordan.” I’ve been aware of Monroe Crossing for a number of years now, and have watched them continue to rise above the fire as opposed to going into it. Art Blackburn is the mover and shaker behind this marvelous group. My how I wish we could have them at our Missouri Valley Festival, but I know in advance that with the festival being a fund raiser for the Pioneer Music Museum and America’s Old Time Country Music inducement, I know as President of the NTCMA I could get them nominated for our annual “Rising Legend” award which takes place on Wed., Aug 29. Wonder if they would be interested in that? Their music is great bluegrass at its finest, along with some creative impressions that will take your own mind ‘into the fire.'
Linda Sandersen - Milwaukee Area Bluegrass Music Association 02/07
INTO THE FIRE
Monroe Crossing’s latest CD is "Into The Fire." This album is quickly getting to be one of our favorites. The title cut, Into the Fire, written by Lisa Fuglie, Monroe Crossing’s fiddler and lead singer, is a catchy Gospel tune, with a Middle Eastern flavor. It tells the Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego story. The album has beautiful arrangements of familiar standards and some originals. Lisa Fuglie and Art Blackburn share the lead position well. All of the band’s members are excellent instrumentalists and, as such, get to show off their abilities on this great album. I highly recommend adding it to your collection.
Joe Ross 12/06
INTO THE FIRE
Minnesota-based Monroe Crossing is apparently on a schedule to release at least one new album annually. In 2004, we were treated to a live album, "On the Road," and in 2005 we enjoyed "Somebody Like You" and their seasonal project, "The Happy Holidays." The band now has a new banjo player (Jason Ericsson) who joined up in May 2006. The rest of the band remains the same -- Lisa Fuglie (fiddle, mandolin, guitar), Art Blackburn (guitar), Matt Thompson (mandolin) and Mark Anderson (bass). Fuglie and Blackburn handle lead vocals. Matt Thompson is the third voice on trios. Mark Anderson sings bass on the two quartets ("He Did Rise" and "Standing in the Need of Prayer").
Recorded live, with no overdubbing, into a single mic, "Into The Fire" is this hard-working band's seventh album overall (and second all-Gospel project, the other being "Then Sings My Soul."). They selected the songs because these are the ones that move them emotionally, spiritually and/or musically. Repertoire is drawn from Terry Smith, Pat Enright, Gillian Welch, Bill Monroe, Don Reno, Ronnie Bowman, Hazel Houser, and other sources.
The title cut, penned by Lisa Fuglie, was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King's 1963 letter from Birmingham jail that cited the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in support of civil disobedience when confronted with unjust laws. "When those who wield the power say you must do that which goes against our God, don't be afraid, you are not alone. Have faith, even as you go into the fire." One of their audience favorites, Mark Anderson's "He Did Rise," features twin mandolins (Fuglie and Thompson) and the band's quartet on a happy, joyful message celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. The album closes with "Get Thee Behind Me," a lively song from another Minnesota songwriter, Mary Henderson. Besides a few notes about each selection, the CD jacket provides the lyrics for the two originals from band members.
Monroe Crossing has considerable courage to record an entire gospel recording "live in the studio." It's certainly a worthy testament to the band's cohesion, as well as their love of gospel feelings and messages. I commend them for their well-rehearsed sound. Apparently, the band is not presenting their music as part of a ministry. They recognize that the messages can vary among listeners, and their gospel music speaks to all in different ways.
Bluegrass Unlimited 05/06
THE HAPPY HOLIDAYS
Just to be clear up front, the "Happy Holiday" we're talking about here is Christmas - not July 4th, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, or the Daytona 500. These are Christmas songs and fairly standard ones: "O Come All Ye Faithful," Christmas Time's A Coming'," "Christmas Time Back Home," and so forth. Monroe Crossing (Art Blackburn, Lisa Fuglie, Matt Thompson, Jeff Whitson, and Mark Anderson) have done a very nice job here, bringing a serious arranging effort to songs that everyone has, for the most part, heard any number of times, if only in the supermarket aisles.
One can only speculate at the interest the bluegrass community might or might not have in yet another recording of most of these songs ("Angels We Have Heard On High," "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear," "Up On The Housetop," "Beautiful Star Of Bethlehem," "Holly Jolly Christmas," etc.), but this seems not to be just a knock-off cash-in-on Christmas effort recorded in those last two hours of studio time the band had already paid for. If you have a yearning for the sounds of Christmas with a bluegrass tinge this year, this is a very well thought out and well-crafted effort. Lisa Fuglie, who handles most of the band's leads, has a wonderful pure vocal delivery that complements these songs nicely.
The instrumental support is also creative and tasteful. One nice touch is tagging "Jerusalem Ridge" onto a fairly jazzy version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." It fits very well. The band members also contribute two originals, "Heed His Fathers Call" by Anderson and "The Happy Holidays" by Anderson and Fuglie.
There are a fair number of bluegrass Christmas releases out there already, and the seem to be available on a regular basis, but this release by Monroe Crossing, while not long on new material, is about as good as any I have heard.
Joe Ross - California Bluegrass Association 12/05
THE HAPPY HOLIDAYS
Monroe Crossing is a fine bluegrass band that calls Minnesota home. On their many indie albums, I’ve enjoyed their adventurous and creative approach to acoustic music. Monroe Crossing has kept a fairly constant lineup despite the 2004 departure of banjo-player Graham Sones. Jeff Whitson now plays the five-string in the band that also includes Lisa Fuglie (fiddle, mandolin), Art Blackburn (guitar), Matt Thompson (mandolin, fiddle) and Mark Anderson (bass). All but Jeff sing on this delightful album which celebrates the spirit of sharing seasonal music and joy.
Their 15 songs in the set include an eclectic mixture of traditional, contemporary, and original material. Every holiday album should have some Christmas carols with new, fresh arrangements. Monroe Crossing certainly doesn’t disappoint us in this regard, and an exceptional instrumental take is given to “Angels We Have Heard On High.” The twin mandolins exquisitely breathe new life into this standard carol. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is given an upbeat jazz-like treatment that undergoes a genesis into “Jerusalem Ridge.” When Monroe Crossing takes off on a snappy 4/4 arrangement of “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear,” it reminded me of the energy one might find in Reno and Smiley’s bluegrass repertoire.
There is some country and bluegrass fare like “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’” and “Christmas Time Back Home.” The latter is attributed to John Duffey. A splendid song for bluegrass arrangement is Johnny Marks’ “Holly Jolly Christmas,” which became a big hit for Burl Ives when he sang it the 1965 movie, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Another winner is their version of “Silver Bells,” which showcases Lisa Fuglie’s breathtaking vocal abilities and Matt Thompson’s engaging mandolin.
To truly emphasize their innovative individualism, Monroe Crossing wisely wrote a couple very special holiday songs for this album, “The Happy Holidays” and “Heed His Father's Call.” The former, written by Mark and Lisa, is a call to lay down burdens, spread good cheer, and connect with traditions during the holidays. Mark Anderson’s “Heed His Father’s Call” provides some deliberation about the sacrifice of God’s only Son for our salvation. Although nicely adorned with four of Nick Wroblewski’s woodcut prints, the CD jacket could have been enhanced by including lyrics for their two originals. They are, however, available on their website. "The Happy Holidays" is a pleasant collection of musical jolliness and merriment that "yule" certainly enjoy. It's an album that will fill your holiday season with plenty of good cheer.
California Bluegrass Association 09/05
SOMEBODY LIKE YOU
Monroe Crossing is a Minnesota based band with five CDs to their credit. They have won many regional awards and have year-round touring schedule in the Midwest. Their smooth vocals and finely tuned instrumentation follow the "Monroe" tradition, but their talents flow to other genres and styles, and this album is an opportunity for them to showcase some special songs from their concerts. The band consists of Art Blackburn on guitar and vocals, Lisa Fuglie on fiddle and vocals, Matt Thompson on mandolin and vocals, Mark Anderson on bass and Jeff Whitson on banjo. Lisa Fuglie weaves her vocal talents around a gentle DeDanann tune, "The Call and the Answer" and an Etta James classic jazz tune, "At Last." These two tunes are worth the cost of the whole album, but Lisa also plays fiddle and mandolin and adds fine harmonies to most of the other songs. The selection includes some Bill Monroe classics and "Maiden's Prayer," an instrumental made popular by Bob Wills. Matt Thompson's mandolin playing is featured in a spirited version of the film classic, " Never On Sunday." The group pulls out all the stops with their bluegrass version of the Temptations' "My Girl" which is popular wedding request. Their recordings were produced at the "Precision Powerhouse," a great business name and an apt description for this band from the North Country.
Bluegrass Australia 08/05
SOMEBODY LIKE YOU
Lisa Fuglie makes a strong and jazzy vocal statement with the Etta James' classic, "At Last," when this disc starts to spin. You immediately realize that Monroe Crossing is no ordinary bluegrass band. In fact, their fifth release is chock full of musical references to other genres too (some Greek influences in "Never on Sunday", a little country in "Rose of my Heart" and "Oh Lonesome Me," a little Motown soul in "My Girl," Celtic flavors in "The Call and the Answer"). Bluegrass is still this band's foundation, but more and more, I've come to appreciate their solid multi-dimensional music as Americana, rooted in tradition but with many branches into other territories.
Monroe Crossing hails from Minnesota, and bands outside Appalachia often take more adventurous tacks as they sail musical waters. Somewhat of a concept album, "Somebody Like You" concentrates on love songs. Mixing instrumentals ("Never on Sunday" and the western swingy "Maiden's Prayer") with plenty of vocal numbers, the thematic result is a set with slower to moderate tempos than typically found on your usual bluegrass album. But, then again, this entertaining band seems to be breaking more and more out of the bluegrass mold. When they cover Bill Monroe's "My Little Georgia Rose" and "Rocky Road Blues," their arrangements end up more subtle and indirect, than high and lonesome as the Father of Bluegrass did them. Unlike Jim and Jesse McReynolds' version, "Just Wondering Why" has a visceral and effective quality with a different type of emotional impact than the original. Blackburn's self-penned title cut is a longing to find just the right person for life's journey.
Monroe Crossing has kept fairly constant in their personnel lineup although banjo-player Graham Sones has moved on, and Jeff Whitson has been picking the five-string with them since 2004. From Clarksville, Arkansas, Jeff performed with Eversong since the 1990s. The other members are Lisa Fuglie (fiddle, mandolin, guitar), Art Blackburn (guitar), Matt Thompson (mandolin, fiddle) and Mark Anderson (bass).
Monroe Crossing always seems to have surprises up their sleeves. They are able to present their own eclectic interests with plenty of thrills to enthuse a crowd. In the past, I've said this band can be a bit hard to peg or categorize. They've found a way to walk the line between various genres and earn the respect from many corners of the music community. Their 2003 album, "The Green Mossy Ground" was a Minnesota Music Academy (MMA) award winner for "Best Bluegrass/Old-Time Recording." They were also the only bluegrass band ever nominated by the MMA as "Artist of the Year."
Individually, the band members bring an experience base from many musical walks of life ranging from rock, blues and bluegrass bands. The total package is a compelling set with a distinctive stamp.
Al Shusterman - Backroads Bluegrass, KCBL, Sacramento CA 07/05
SOMEBODY LIKE YOU
As always the vocals & the instrumental work were excellent but you really struck paydirt with your song selection. I just couldn't believe it!! That is why I had to play it twice. Starting off with "At Last", WOW!!! Then several songs later "My Girl", & "Oh Lonesome Me". Interspersed between those songs was Maiden's Prayer, My Little Georgia Rose, & Rocky Road Blues. Are you trying to give me a heart attack? And to wrap it up "Never On Sunday". I love that song, & have never heard it played with anything but a mandolin. Great job. I also love the way the bass had 3 solos within the project. Very nice touch. You have my vote!!!
I played the entire project for my listeners, & my request line was busy while it was playing. Based on their requests I will be playing several cuts each week until the project is played in total again. Thank you for sharing your fine project with us.
Kenny Dawsey - Bluegrass Works 03/04
THE GREEN MOSSY GROUND
The "Green Mossy Ground" is the third CD from one of Minnesota's busiest bluegrass bands. Monroe Crossing is a five member unit comprised of Lisa Fuglie (fiddle), Art Blackburn (guitar), Graham Sones (banjo), Matt Thompson (mandolin) and Mark Anderson (bass), the same instrumentation Bill Monroe used in his now classic band of 1946. This CD displays not only these five musicians' skill with their respective instruments, but also their ability to produce a pleasing vocal sound. The selection of material reflects their ability to cover different musical styles effectively.
The "Green Mossy Ground," an original song by fiddle player and vocalist Lisa Fuglie, gives us an example of the quality original material Monroe Crossing has to offer. This ballad of love and death is reminiscent of the old murder ballads. Though a recent composition, the song has an old-time feel to it. "Eight Good Years" is another interesting original piece, penned by guitarist and band leader Art Blackburn. This song tells of a love that has reached a crossroads and declares the journey so far has been good. However, the lovers question whether to continue the shared path or go seperate ways. The song is well written and could easily cross genre lines.
The first of the two gospel songs is a nearly two hundred year old Lutheran hymn. "I Love to Tell the Story" showcases both Fuglie's fine singing voice as well as the band's tight harmonies. As with several other songs on the project, the band uses instrumental harmony techniques during the instrumental leads with excellent results. The Pete Wernick tune "Tequila Mockingbird" features banjo player Graham Sones. Sones is an outstanding banjo player and he really shines on this tune.
One highlight of this CD is "Just Because of You," written by Fuglie and Anderson...they were both members of "The Deadly Nightshade Family Singers" before joining Monroe Crossing. "Just Because of You" is an upbeat honky tonk swing (tune) that not only features the fine vocals...but is an intricately arranged song that gives the whole band a chance to strut its stuff.
Featured on Aubrey Haynie's Bill Monroe tribute, "Leavin' Rosine" is mandolin player Matt Thompson. With this tune, as well as all the others on the CD, you will find that Thompson is quite adept on mandolin. All of his leads and fill ins are most tasteful.
In closing, I would give this CD a thumbs up. It is just what you would expect from a talented band with two previous CDs under their belt. They put forth their best effort, and have produced a terrific bluegrass recording. Their hard work has paid off.
Robert C Buckingham - Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine 03/04
THE GREEN MOSSY GROUND
Monroe Crossing is a traditional band with liquid-smooth vocals and much-better-than average picking. Lisa Fuglie provides strong vocals and good fiddle. Art Blackburn's smooth vocals also predominate on this project. ...The harmonies are sweet and on the money. This project is swollen with sweetness and even the hard-driving material manages only to sound fast, as in "This Morning At Nine." That they brought nearly half of the material to the project speaks well of their creativity. They have no lack of that, and do use it to their advantage. This band should find a great following among those who are not too rustic in their tastes, or who do not want to wander too far into the mountains of old bluegrass. While they have drawn their music from some older sources, Monroe Crossing manages to keep things upbeat and contemporary.
Al Shusterman - Backroads Bluegrass, KCBL, Sacramento CA 10/03
THEN SINGS MY SOUL
("Then Sings My Soul") is not just another gospel project, it is the CD that all bands should aspire to. Monroe Crossing sets the bar higher on every project & they exceed it easily. I just love the way Monroe Crossing mixed traditional gospel songs, original material, & somewhat obscure songs giving them new life. The lead, harmony and quartet singing were incredibly beautiful. No matter what your mood, just hearing this wonderful CD takes your worries away, & puts a smile on your face. People in Sacramento love the old time gospel sound, and it doesn't get any better than this project.
Monroe Crossing takes its name from the father of bluegrass so it's not a surprise that the band is in the traditional camp of bluegrass. The album (The "Green Mossy Ground") opens with a spirited version of "This Morning At Nine" from the early days of the Country Gentlemen. Another barn burner is the Osborne Brothers' song "Listening to the Rain." The marvelous blending of instrumental sounds, particularly the mandolin and fiddle is further shown in their rendition of Aubrey Haynie's "Leavin' Rosine" tribute to Bill Monroe. Matt Thompson's mandolin chop is strong and clear throughout the songs and his leads are matched and embellished by Lisa Fuglie's fiddle. Art Blackburn has a chance to showcase his vibrant guitar flatpicking in a tribute to another flatpicker, "Blake's March." Graham Sones is the new banjo player in the band and his mastery of the five string is shown in his fast picking of Pete Wernick's "Tequila Mockingbird."
But a bluegrass band does not thrive on instrumentals alone. With Art and Lisa providing the lead vocals, the band has a tremendous vocal variety. The outstanding harmonies on the gospel "The Rain" and "I Love To Tell The Story" are crystalline perfect. Tim O'Brien's "The Sweetest Song I Sing" has the pure harmonies and exact instrumentation that make this the highlight of the album. An album with something for everyone on every song!
THE GREEN MOSSY GROUND
We've discovered a new group from Minnesota that delivers Bluegrass in their own inimitable fashion. This third album from Monroe Crossing (the "Green Mossy Ground") is filled with thirteen great cuts ranging from love songs, death songs, cheatin' songs, gospel tunes, instrumentals with drive and (always) a good Bill Monroe number. They have been delighting audiences with their performances and now you have the opportunity to hear them on this CD.
Dave Higgs - Bluegrass Breakdown, WPLN, Brentwood, TN 09/03
THE GREEN MOSSY GROUND
Howdy and many thanks for sending us a copy of your stellar new outing, the "Green Mossy Ground," which I have thoroughly enjoyed. You all show great imagination in your arrangements, a flair for coming up with wonderful tunes and, of course, some superb musicianship. I especially enjoyed "Leavin' Rosine," "Blake's March" (it really swings!), "Eight Good Years," "The Rain" and the title track. I'll be doing my best to help spread the word here in Nashville and in our other syndicated outlets. Thanks again!
Al Shusterman - Backroads Bluegrass, KCBL, Sacramento CA 09/03
THE GREEN MOSSY GROUND
If you are looking for straight ahead bluegrass music, then look no farther because (the "Green Mossy Ground") is the real deal. In your liner notes, you should have this warning included; If you have high blood pressure or heart problems, don't play this CD because it will take your breath away. The vocals, both lead and harmony, were excellent. Their fervor & enthusiasm in their voices as they sang each song sent chills down your spine. The song selection couldn't have been better. I enjoyed the original material as well as the few traditional songs on this project. Hearing this CD once was not enough. It needs to be played several times in order to fully appreciate the combination of their fine voices & the great lyrics to each song. Needless to say, the audience response for this CD was overwhelming. While playing the entire CD, my request line never stopped ringing. The instrumental work as well as the backup playing were just great. Each time you play this CD you find out what you missed the last time you heard it. The interest in this project is very high. I hope I don't wear this CD out. Thank you for sharing your fine project with us.
Cary Allen Fields - Fields of Bluegrass, WICR, Indianapolis IN 09/03
THE GREEN MOSSY GROUND
I've listened to your CD, the "Green Mossy Ground," quite a bit this week, which says good things about how it has grown on me. I have TONS of projects to listen to all the time... There is a very cohesive overall sound to the project and there are many good things to be said about both the vocal and instrumental work. The engineer(s) did a quality job on the mix, as well. Kudos to Mark and Zac. The title track has turned out to be my personal favorite. I like Lisa's voice a whole lot, "I Love To Tell The Story" will be featured in the gospel set in the next couple of weeks, too. In fact, I don't think there is a track on here that won't eventually make it into the program in the months ahead. Of course, your singing rocks too, Art! Everyone gets a good blend.
Lynn Healey - The Bluegrass Connection 04/02
ACROSS THE BLUE MOUNTAINS
This CD ("Across the Blue Mountains") displays American roots music that mixes the talents of five musicians who are collectively versed in old-time, folk, bluegrass, and contemporary acoustic music. The diversities are balanced by an important factor: the understanding of driving, effective rhythm on the parts of all the musicians.
The band name "Monroe Crossing" honors Bill Monroe...and signifies the members' individual approaches and interpretations of the music. The resulting blend is solidly grounded yet notably upscale and modern.
From the opening cut, one feels immediate respect for this group. They are highly competent and obviously well rehearsed. Upon continued listening, the members' individual personalities blossom. For example, Lisa Fuglie's authentic old-time influence becomes more apparent, as does Art Blackburn's brilliantly complex yet simple guitar style. The group presents worthy songwriting talents...These originals are sandwiched between a generous helping of traditional tunes accented by slices of non-traditional treatment,...a couple of Bill Monroe classics...and a Gillian Welch favorite ("Annabelle").
On this CD, Monroe Crossing's creatively cohesive arrangements abound with an added sprinkling of delightfully unexpected harmonies. The instrumental portions are tastefully clean and refreshing, the vocals smooth and polished. The band hails from Minneapolis, MN and if they have not been featured on Minnesota-based "A Prairie Home Companion," they surely ought to be. Their music seems to come from Anywhere, USA and should be heard everywhere in the USA.
Bob Everhart - Tradition Magazine 04/02
ACROSS THE BLUE MOUNTAINS
It's my day. I just love traditional bluegrass and this fine band... is the best I've heard in quite a long time. This is a really fine polished tight band that quite obviously likes each other very much. On ("Across the Blue Mountains") you can hear their warmth and devotion...Very very nice interchange between the musicians.
Art plays guitar and vocals (and nice tasty licks every one); Benji Flaming on banjo and bass vocals (mixed just right for me...); Mark Anderson on bass (...traditional bluegrass without the 'jazz' that is happening in a lot of younger groups today); Lisa Fuglie on fiddle and vocals (...a voice...up high among all the good female singers...); Matt Thompson on mandolin and vocals with fiddle too (just like Monroe would have liked it, the push is there, but not so strong that it envelopes the other players, especially on "Rain Was Turning Into Snow," thank you for sharing Matt).
What a nice name these folks have for their band. Bill Monroe was such an influencing factor in this music, it's no wonder so many of us still hold the way he plays it as the 'master.' Monroe Crossing is sure welcome at our festival anytime.
Roxanne Bergeron - Inside Bluegrass Magazine 11/01
ACROSS THE BLUE MOUNTAINS
Their first release, "Across the Blue Mountains," is a juicy compilation of traditional, original, and musical heroes' tunes dedicated to the memory of Bill Monroe (and Bruno, wherever you are). Lisa Fuglie's solo fiddle lick opening the title track is warm and colorful; then Benji Flaming's crisp banjo drives in, building and maintaining a bright structure. The harmonies of Fuglie and Art Blackburn are true and lovely and are followed midsong by an interplay of "Monster" Matt Thompson's gorgeous mandolin and Fuglie's fiddle. All throughout, Mark Anderson's understated bass cradles the tune.
The fourteen-tune project, recorded during the summer months, mixed by Flaming and Anderson and mastered by Anderson, maintains solid energy throughout, from the bluegrass treatments of "The Cuckoo" — a confident departure from Alice Gerrard's old-time clawhammer banjo-driven version — and Fuglie's zennish "Frog" to Gillian Welch's neotraditional "Annabelle." The harmonies never fail, and their synergy soars when M.C. voices work a capella to open Blackburn's silky "Friendship's Road" waltz. The quintets polish as gregarious instrumentalists weaving in and out of breaks is pleasing. I really enjoyed the version of Bill Monroe's "Tallahassee," a joyful Mexican-Hat-Dance of a tune.
The Twin Cities bluegrass community is too often like the road to Oz, with alliances, like people, coming and going so quickly! As a greedy consumer of the local scene, I'm clicking my red sequined pumps together three times and wishing for these guys to stay together and stick around for a long while.
Brenda Hough - The Northern California Bluegrass Society 10/01
ACROSS THE BLUE MOUNTAINS
Monroe Crossing is a happy blend of musicians who seemed destined for each other. The group had their "crossing" when members of the Pretty Good Bluegrass Band were helped at a gig by Matt Thompson and Benji Flaming. The ensuing performance so pleased everyone that they joined together to form the new group in the fall of 2000. While they are a relatively new group, their years of experience in different bands have given them a polished sound and exciting blend. (On "Across the Blue Mountains"), the crossing paths of traditional and modern sounds shows up in Matt Thompson's "Rain Was Turning Into Snow," with its flowering harmonies and Lisa Fuglie's strong vocal. Art Blackburn's song "Friendship's Road" has some wonderful blending harmonies and a message that we all can remember. Lisa's "Frog" is a fanciful pretend song that would appeal to all of us who wonder if "mosquitoes taste like marshmallows." She is also featured on the Gillian Welch song, "Annabelle."
The instrumental work is also top notch. Benji Flaming's banjo work provides a pulsating beat that weaves throughout the songs, and Art's flatpicking guitar leads provide strong punctuation and accent and seem to flow in patterns of their own making. Fellow Minnesotan Pat Donohue's song "All My Life" is given a bluegrass flavor complete with great lead breaks from Art and Benji. "Nail That Catfish to a Tree" showcases Lisa's strong woody fiddle sound and Matt's mandolin. The Bill Monroe instrumental "Tallahassee," is a seldom played song that the group plays with great power and drive that will set your feet a bouncing!
The album is a great beginning and we can only hope that Monroe Crossing will someday come out to us in California.