Various Artists

American Roots Music [Box Set]

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The successes of the breakthrough soundtrack from the film O Brother Where Art Thou? and the in-depth PBS television series Ken Burns' Jazz seem to have combined in the 2001 production of Palm Pictures' four-part TV series American Roots Music. The series touches on the development of the distinctly American styles of traditional folk, country, blues, gospel, Western swing, bluegrass, cajun, zydeco, Tejano, and Native American music. Corresponding with the television event, Palm has released a four-CD box set soundtrack with a 48-page booklet covering the styles covered during the show. Much like a broadened version of the amazing Washington Square Memoirs: The Great Urban Folk Boom, 1950-1970 CD set, American Roots Music has pulled together an impressive list of performers, including the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Bill Monroe, B.B. King, Hank Williams, Robert Johnson, Son House, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, the Staple Singers, Clifton Chenier, Flaco Jimenez, and Bob Dylan. The depth of the track selection is impressive, as is the breadth of the performers chosen. The producers have chosen to include some studio recordings, and some audio tracks taken from the film archives, making for a somewhat uneven sound quality. While the previously unreleased nature of these select tracks will appeal to collectors and die-hard fans, those just exploring these styles might be turned off by the rough quality of these performances. The discs span more than eight decades of music, acting as a good overview of these genres for new listeners, while Americana enthusiasts will view it as another great collection of the most influential American roots artists in music history.

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