For The Old School, bluegrass great Peter Rowan assembled an incredible cast to interpret 10 of his engaging original tunes and a traditional spiritual. Though certainly bluegrass-flavored throughout, there are also nods to blues (“Ragged Old Dream”), old-time folk (“Doc Watson Morning”) and more contemporary shadings (“A Mountain Man’s Dream”). Among the stellar array joining Rowan were several bluegrass/country legends—fellow Bill Monroe alumnus Del McCoury, Bobby Osborne, Jesse McReynolds, Buddy Spicher and J.D. Crowe—and such top-flight players (and singers) as Stuart Duncan, Robbie and Ronnie McCoury (Del’s sons), Don Rigby, Bryan Sutton, Dennis Crouch and the other three members of the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band: Keith Little, Mike Witcher and Paul Knight. These boys can play!
The sessions were recorded at Compass Sound Studio in Nashville, with ace banjoist Alison Brown producing and Jim Cooley engineering (except on one song) and mixing. The approach to the sessions was, indeed, “old school”—the players sat in a tight circle facing each other, headphone- and baffle-free, almost as if they were on someone’s front porch. Cooley single-miked the instruments, opting for a Neumann KM 84 on Rowan’s guitar (and a Korby Audio 251 for his lead vocals), a Gefell M-300 on mandolin and the neck of the upright bass, Gefell UM70 on banjo, Neumann KM 86 on dobro and AKG C 414 on fiddle. He recorded through Compass’ Control 24, using a Millennia HV-3D 8-channel and API 3124 4-channel preamps, a Tube-Tech CL 1B compressor and a Distressor, among other tools.
“We did a lot of takes, and we comped takes together,” Cooley says, “but we were somewhat limited editing-wise because of the leakage—moving things around was a little tricky.” Cooley mixed the Compass Records album in the box on the same Avid Control 24 used for the tracking to Pro Tools.