To say that country has evolved considerably over the years would be an understatement. Play some of the '20s recordings of Jimmie Rodgers, Riley Puckett, and the Carter Family right after hearing something that Patty Loveless or Trisha Yearwood provided 70 years later, and you'll receive a dramatic demonstration of just how much country has changed since its old-time era. Regrettably, old-time country hasn't always been treated respectfully by labels; there are plenty of poorly assembled collections that suffer from lousy sound quality and a lack of liner notes and recording dates. But this British release deserves applause for getting it right. Assembled by the London-based ASV label in 1995, Howdy! 25 Hillbilly All-Time Greats spans 1923-1942 and takes a thoroughly rewarding look at vintage country. The 76-minute CD gets into early honky tonk with Ernest Tubb's "Walking the Floor Over You" and Western swing with Bob Wills' "New San Antonio Rose" (both from the early '40s), but most of the material is from country's pre-Hank Williams, pre-honky tonk, old-time era -- and that includes hillbilly classics like the Carter Family's "Foggy Mountain Top" (1929), Jimmie Rodgers' "Blue Yodel" (1927), and Wendell Hall's "It Ain't Gonna Rain No Mo'" (which goes back to 1923 and is the oldest track). Overall, ASV's digital remastering is impressive; the label has filtered out a lot of the noise and scratchiness associated with 78-era recordings, which is why Patsy Montana's "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart" (1936), Gene Autry's "Atlanta Bound" (1931), and Riley Puckett's "Red Wing" (1927) sound much better on Howdy! than they have on other CDs. From decent sound quality (certainly by pre-'50s standards) to Peter Dempsey's informative liner notes, this excellent compilation gives old-time country the respect it deserves. Howdy! is enthusiastically recommended to both novices and serious collectors.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson