Various Artists

This Is Americana, Vol. 1: A View From Sugar Hill

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Compilations are sometimes accompanied by ambitious titles like "Bluegrass Today" or "The Roots of Country," as though one collection could encompass the birth or current state of an entire genre. Occasionally, however, an album like This Is Americana actually delivers the goods. Drawn from the talented group of artists recording for Sugar Hill -- including Rodney Crowell, Hot Rize, and John Cowan -- this generous collection brings together 15 songs and one instrumental. The music runs the gauntlet of the hard-to-nail-down Americana genre, from the acoustic sounds of Baucom, Bibey & Blueridge to the eclectic, electric hodgepodge of the Gourds. There are old standbys like Doc Watson and Doyle Lawson along with new faces like Railroad Earth and Sean Watkins. This Is Americana also serves as an excellent introduction to all of these artists. "Two Quarts Low" gives ample evidence that ex-New Grass Revival singer John Cowan still has one of the best voices on the progressive bluegrass scene, while "Out Here in the Middle" finds James McMurtry digging deep to offer sharp observations on life in America. Of course, no Sugar Hill collection would be complete with out an appearance by Jerry Douglas, a dobro player so prolific that one might be tempted to think that he sleeps in the studio. "Patrick Meets the Brickbats" rolls along at a nice clip, giving Douglas a chance to combine good taste with speedy picking. This Is Americana is a fine collection that will remind one of listening to a good radio program without any commercials.

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