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"Playing with Bill Monroe and being so close to the searing, white hot edge of his cutting, driving music gave you the absolute diploma to develop that style, but also gave you another diploma called musical freedom," says former Monroe guitarist and lead-singer Peter Rowan.

In the 36 years since he left Monroe's band, Rowan has become an innovator, mixing various genres with the traditional bluegrass sound. One of his current projects matches up reggae with bluegrass because "the grooves overlap in a beautiful way," the guitarist believes.

The result: an album, Reggaebilly, that was recorded at Jamaica's Tuff Gong Studios and sets bluegrass standards such as "Little Maggie" and "The Cuckoo Bird" to a reggae backbeat. Rowan says that the driving chop in bluegrass and the guitar-chord skank in reggae are in many ways one and the same. Yah, mon--high and lonesome will never be the same.

***

Smiths' guitarist Johnny Marr is finally fronting a band--a blessing about 16 years in the making since the Smiths' demise. He's making up for lost time with The Healers (pictured right), who visit the Cat's Cradle May 15. This won't be a Smiths reunion-light, but expect Marr's funky outfit to have some musical surprises. For more information, call 967-9053 or visit catscradle.com.

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