Jim Rooney was an early participant in the 1960's American folk music revival, often partnering with banjoist Bill Keith. Rooney made an even bigger name for himself as a music producer and champion of artists such as folkie Townes Van Zandt and Nanci Griffith. In the '60s Rooney helped coordinate the Newport Folk Festival, moving from there to a job running the influential Bearsville Sound Studio and the Bearsville record label, which recorded many of the top rock, folk-rock and singer-songwriter artists of the era. Rooney has recorded extensively on countless albums, as well as several album of his own, which are reviewed below...
Bill Keith & Jim Rooney "Bluegrass: Livin' On The Mountain" (Prestige Folklore, 1963) (LP)
The debut album by banjo picker Bill Keith and guitarist Jim Rooney, whose creative partnership would continue for decades: Rooney plays on most of Keith's records for years to come. This is a nice, straightforward bluegrass set, one of many groundbreaking albums that set the benchmark for the folk-scene bluegrass revival of the early 1960s. Definitely worth tracking down!
The Blue Velvet Band "Sweet Moments With The Blue Velvet Band" (Warner Brothers, 1969) (LP) & (CD)
(Produced by Erik Jacobsen)
A smooth but sweet major-label album made when the '70s newgrass scene was still just around the bend. There's certainly a power-packed lineup: Bill Keith and Jim Rooney join up with fiddler Richard Greene (who had just served his own apprenticeship with Bill Monroe) and guitarist Eric Weissberg in his pre-Deliverance days... people often cite this as a pioneering bluegrass record, but I just don't hear much high-lonesome here, rather, it seems like a tradition-oriented hippie country set, with most of the "rock" sensibility set aside in favor of old-fashioned twang and a little bit of Bakersfield bounce. The repertoire is a swell mix of Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, a Luke Wills western-swing oldie and a cover of Merle Haggard's "Somebody Else You've Known," with these guys scooping the Flying Burrito Brothers by a year or two. The also show deep folk scene roots with a reading of "The Knight Upon The Road," and version of the Appalachian murder ballad "Little Sadie." I think it's Jim Rooney singing lead, and I have to admit he's an acquired taste. For the first few tracks you might think there's a hint of parody in his voice -- after a while, though, you'll realize it's just the plain-spoked way that he sings, not some kind of nudge-nudge, wink-wink thing. There are only two original tracks on here, including one of the album's strongest songs, "Hitch-Hiker," a cheerful novelty number written by Weissberg that captures some of the feel of the times. I guess this has been reissued on CD, though the original LP is worth tracking down just to enjoy the hilarious "board game" drawing and text that Eric von Schmidt designed for the inside of the gatefold sleeve. A long out-of-print landmark album that is more of a quiet, iconoclastic nugget than a earthshaking stylistic game-changer.
Mudacres "Music Among Friends" (Rounder, 1972)
Keith and Mooney also sat in on this groovy folk/bluegrass jam session, led by brothers Happy and Artie Traum, along with Maria Muldaur, John Herald, Eric Kaz, and others.
Borderline "Sweet Dreams And Quiet Desires" (United Artists, 1973)
Jim Rooney "One Day At A Time" (Rounder, 1975) (LP)
(Produced by John Nagy & Peter Troisi)
A stalwart of the 1960's folk'n'bluegrass scene kicks back and gets loose with a country-flavored set, full of plenty of sweet picking and on-purpose not-great vocals, a resolutely DIY-sounding, back porch style that makes the music all the more delightful. Jamming with him are his "partners in crime," East Coast truegrasser Joe Val, guitarist Steve Bruton and Rooney's longtime collaborator, Bill Keith, playing banjo and pedal steel. The music stretches from folk and bluegrass to honkytonk and outlaw music, with songs by James Talley, Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and hillbilly old-timers Wiley & Zeke... A strikingly diverse set for a guy who's best known as a bluegrass revivalist. Highlights include Rooney's bouncy original composition, "Do You Think It Will Ever Go Away," which has some fun, Merle Travis-styled guitar licks. This is an album you have to place yourself in the right wavelength to enjoy, but once you do, it's very rewarding.
Jim Rooney & Rooney's Irregulars "My Own Ignorant Way" (JRP, 2002)
Hick Music Index