I Wasn’t Born to Rock’n Roll Roland White (Tompkins Square) Reissued bluegrass album finds a mandolinist discovering glee in the wake of tragedy.

Kind of Bluegrass: Roland White found glee following tragedy.

At first glance, the name of Roland White’s recently reissued 1976 bluegrass album—I Wasn’t Born to Rock’n Roll—appears to be a contrarian proclamation, a defiant stand against the excesses of arena rock and disco. It turns out that White’s stance was considerably more lighthearted, a fact that becomes evident as soon as you flip the Digipak to its back cover. It reads “But I Love to Cook,” and includes a picture of White frying up a couple of eggs on the backside of his mandolin, which presumably he’s heated up with his breakneck playing. White began performing professionally in 1954, at age 16, with his siblings as the Country Boys. He and brother Clarence continued on in a bluegrass group called the Kentucky Colonels in the ’60s, but they struggled to find gigs amid the ascendancy of the folk revival and then the British Invasion. Clarence eventually joined the Byrds and Roland joined the backup bands of two his biggest bluegrass influences, Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt. In 1973, the brothers’ reunion in the New Kentucky Colonels was tragically cut short when a drunk driver fatally hit Clarence while he was loading up his equipment after a gig; Roland dislocated a shoulder trying to push his brother out of the way. Less than three years later, White created the upbeat I Wasn’t Born to Rock’n Roll, and it stands as a testament to his dedication and buoyant spirit. A better showcase for White’s mandolin than his singing, I Wasn’t Born is an enthusiastic take on traditionalism. White pays tribute to the greats with whom he’s played, covering Monroe’s “Can’t You Hear Me Calling” and Flatt’s “Head Over Heels In Love With You” and “If I Should Wander Back Tonight” (written with Earl Scruggs). Roland’s palpitating plectrum resuscitates six bluegrass classics, including the traditional “Nine Pound Hammer” and Jimmie Davis’ “Shackles and Chains,” over the course of the ambitious medley, which Roland and his crew recorded in a single take. If bluegrass is the jazziest of the country subgenres, then the seven-and-a-half minute “Marathon” is basically a freeform, country-jazz odyssey. The lone original, “Powder Creek,” is an airy instrumental penned by Roland and Clarence in 1963 on the New Jersey Turnpike during their early Kentucky Colonels days. Roland’s interplay with the guitar and the banjo is sprightly and the minor chord progressions are the sole traces of melancholy in an otherwise cheerful song. It’s an example of Roland White doing what he does best, playing bluegrass mandolin, pure and simple.

VIDEO: Roland White

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