The Carter Family

RCA Country Legends

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It's practically impossible to underestimate the importance of the Carter Family in the history of country music -- A.P. Carter, Sara Carter, and Maybelle Carter were not only among the first genuine stars the music produced, but the rough, flinty passion of their performances and the heart-tugging power of their material made them perhaps the clearest and most direct link between the ancient Child ballads that formed the bedrock of the folk and country repertoire and the more contemporary approach Jimmie Rodgers would soon bring to the "hillbilly" style. Anyone interested in the history of country or traditional folk music needs some Carter Family recordings in his or her collection, but the practical question is, where to start? This 16-song compilation taken from the trio's early recordings for the Victor label -- some dating back to the fabled "Bristol Sessions" -- is by no stretch of the imagination the definitive Carter Family collection, or even the best presentation of their Victor material (the whole of which has been reissued in an exhaustive series from Rounder). But as a starter disc or a "greatest-hits" package, RCA Country Legends isn't a bad way to go. The track listing covers a handful of the very best-known Carter Family numbers (many of which are now traditional country standards), the audio is good if not always great (though given the late-'20s vintage of most of this material, it's an open question if it could be any better), the packaging is handsome, Rich Kienzle's liner notes are concise and informative, and the music is extraordinary. The Carter Family had the rare ability to make music that sounded as common as the earth while achieving an emotional honesty and creative purity that touches the soul with the force and focus of a bullet, and when you cue up "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes," "My Clinch Mountain Home," "Keep on the Sunny Side," or any of the other tracks on this disc, you'll hear them in their prime, and it's an experience to treasure.

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