A few years back, Peter Rowan started writing an album inspired by Luke the Drifter, Hank Williams’ plainspoken, worldly wise alter-ego. Then the pandemic hit, and instead of going into the studio, Rowan stayed home in California, rescuing one song to launch a completely different project.
That song, “Dream of Heaven,” set the tone for everything that followed. Rooted in old-time country gospel, it’s colored by everything that’s happened in the 50-or-so albums since Rowan became a Blue Grass Boy: the unplanned wandering from one style to another, the shifting spirituality of his songwriting, and his emergence as a bandleader and now bluegrass elder statesman. Rowan’s fine current quartet plays quietly enough to keep from overwhelming his voice, which has grown thinner with age, and to give him the freedom to let the melody soar. His Casey Cochran dreadnought gently drives the call and response, and his words float between the last hundred years and the present moment.
It’s an incredible accomplishment, and over the course of the 13 tracks on Calling You From My Mountain, Rowan does it again and again, bridging the distance between bluegrass tradition and Buddhist practice. There’s a lived-in clarity to these songs, from the simple grace of the title tune, sung as a duet with Molly Tuttle, to the biblical ambitiousness of “Freedom Trilogy,” with Billy Strings playing lead guitar. There’s plenty of drive in the instrumentals too, making this as fine a bluegrass album as you’ll hear; Rowan picking beautifully melodic leads and writing with an ever-increasing depth, still at the top of his craft.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.