Various Artists

The Essential Guide to Country [Essential Guide]

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An installment of Union Square's Essential Guide series, this ambitious three-disc overview of the mercurial country genre hits a lot of high notes. This is not your average budget collection of truck stop favorites and tales of heartbreak and drink (though they are here); rather, it's a sampler of the highest order that builds a bridge connecting the mighty Carter Family, Hank Williams, and the Louvin Brothers with the contemporary sounds of Ryan Adams, Alison Krauss, and Lonestar. It's a wildly schizophrenic listen, and some of the tracks included seem like odd choices for the performers involved, but this Essential Guide to Country almost earns the right to use its boastful title.

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