Various Artists

Paramount Old Time Tunes

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There is a touch of difference in quality among the tracks on this compilation. To be sure, on a case by case basis, each track might not actually warrant the highest possible rating that is indicated here. Plenty of them do, however, and the rest of them are pulled up in status by the overwhelming greatness of the package itself. The black-and-white album cover is no big deal, but it gets the job done. The big deal is the enclosed booklet, which packs enough material for a small book within its pages. Some may find the written musical examples of great interest, despite the actual oral tradition that is an important part of learning this music. Other fanatics may find the complete discographies of Paramount's recording activity in the early days, set in miniscule type of course, to be just the thing they want to curl up with on a cold winter night. Most important, there is more than enough information about each of the fascinating artists featured in this collection, so that the listener need not walk away in a sense of total confusion over just who exactly the Fruit Jar Guzzlers were. Sometimes the music itself sounds fuzzier than the information provided, the material often re-recorded off the mangy discs of hillbilly collectors. There are as many highlights in this set as hollows in the Appalachians, but a few that deserve extra, extra special mention are the miraculous opening track, entitled "Banjo Sam," by Wilmer Watt and the Lonely Eagles, a dark and mysterious "Reuben Oh Reuben" by Emry Arthur, and a beautiful "Blue Eyes" by the North Carolina Ramblers with Roy Harvey and the fine fiddler Posey Rorer. The styles include old-timey as well as gospel, cowboy songs, and country blues. Fans of the cowboy genre will love the performance by Rex Kelly of "The Strawberry Roan," especially the way Kelly handles the little portimento bit at the end of each verse. Not exactly a hillbilly type, virtuoso axeman Roy Smeck even pokes his nose and thankfully his fingers into one of the tracks.

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