Chet Atkins

Legendary Performer

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Part of RCA's attractive Legendary Performer LP series, the Chet Atkins volume doesn't offer any unreleased goodies, but it does dig deeply into his catalog, resurrecting some rarities and truly choice cuts from the guitar master's first 20 years with the label. Intelligently and chronologically laid out one decade per side, Side A (1947-1957) deals with the early combo fingerpicking sessions, while Side B (1958-1967) is more of a summary of Atkins' profound influence on the Nashville Sound and his stylistic versatility. The set starts with the first song from the first session Atkins made for RCA Victor, "Ain'tcha Tired of Making Me Blue," back when he was being marketed as a vocalist -- a disarmingly modest one with a soft, undiluted East Tennessee accent. "I've Been Working on the Guitar" (Railroad) from three months later finds Atkins' country fingerpicking style pretty well established, and later comes a delightfully jangling "Barber Shop Rag" from 1949 and some fancy electric picking on "Tiger Rag" from 1957. Things turn countrypolitan in a hurry on Side B with the sublime, string-laden "Jitterbug Waltz" -- from a favorite LP of audiophiles, Chet Atkins in Hollywood -- some urbanely funky Jerry Reed blues ("A Little Bit of Blues"), an uneventful medley of backwoods tunes from Atkins' first session with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, and a lovely fingerpicking rendition of the Beatles' "Michelle." The most entertaining -- and endearing -- find of the album is "Chet's Tune," a surprise tribute to Atkins by what seems like RCA Victor's entire 1967 Nashville roster, one after another chiming in, one overdubbed line at a time. Here's the extraordinary list of contributors: Floyd Cramer, Jerry Reed. Eddy Arnold, Dottie West, Archie Campbell, Bobby Bare, Norma Jean, George Hamilton IV, Skeeter Davis, Jimmy Dean, Hank Locklin, Jim Ed Brown, Hank Snow, John D. Loudermilk, Connie Smith, Homer & Jethro, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Porter Wagoner, and as a final tweak of the knee, cornpone comedian Don Bowman. This was released only on an obscure single at the time -- and alone, it's worth the hunt for the album. As usual in this series, RCA includes a fascinating booklet loaded with rare photos, session log sheets, and assorted documents. Why RCA mixed genuine monaural tracks with fake stereo ones instead of issuing them all in mono -- and then mistakenly crediting "Jitterbug Waltz" as fake stereo when in fact, it's the real stereo article -- is something only the marketing geniuses can explain, if at all.

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