Unlike many bands, the history of the New Lost City Ramblers is fairly easy to trace. John Cohen and Mike Seeger joined with Tom Paley between '58 and '62, reviving string-band music from the '20s and '30s. In '62, Tracy Schwarz' replaced a departing Paley, adding new material to the band's repertoire. 40 Years of Concert Recordings proves as straightforward, offering nearly 50 live songs from "Soldier's Joy" in 1958, capturing the band's first performance, to the "Tennessee Blues" recorded in 1999. These live performances, quality wise, vary little from the group's studio work. The difference, however, lies in the Ramblers' sense of humor and interaction with audiences. Whether offering an earnest introduction or just having a little fun, the group leaves the impression of a bunch of nice guys having a good time doing what they love. Their repertoire is broad and diverse: the anti-war "The Battleship of Maine" makes way for the hoary "Poor Ellen Smith" which moves aside for the joyful "Too Tight Rag." A version of "Sourwood Mountain" finds the Ramblers jamming with the Stanley Brothers, while Seeger offers a superb take on "Little Maggie." With such variety, the band takes on the persona of a walking folksong encyclopedia. The Ramblers also proved amenable to changing times. A particularly odd and enjoyable "Wildwood Weed" turns tradition on its head, crossing the Carter Family with the counter-culture to sing the praises of the weed cannabis. Though many of these recordings have been available before, 16 are new to this collection. This two-CD set provides a detailed portrait of one of the premiere revival bands, searching for new directions over the years, while remaining firmly planted in yesteryear. 40 Years of Concert Recordings will please long-time fans and work as a grand introduction to those unfamiliar.
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AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2