Earl Scruggs / The Earl Scruggs Revue

Anniversary Special, Vols. 1-2

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One-half of the legendary banjo duo Flatt & Scruggs, Earl Scruggs formed his eponymous Revue upon the demise of his longtime partnership with Lester Flatt in early 1969, and promptly began unleashing a stream of excellent albums. Anniversary Special arrived in 1975, marking the banjo man's 25th anniversary of signing with Columbia/CBS Records. It was a guest star-laden affair, with Scruggs and his two sons, the core of the Revue, joined in the studio by a host of country, folk, and other far-flung luminaries. Johnny Nash, Joan Baez, Billy Joel, and the Pointer Sisters are just a handful of the guests, an aggregate so eclectic one longs to know just how Scruggs knew them all. The booklet supplies the answers, introducing the cast and explaining their surprising links to Scruggs (most more interesting than any degree of separation Kevin Bacon can lay claim to). But as far removed as some of these people are from the banjo star, the set is solidly grounded by the members of the Revue, as they joyfully pick their way through a series of astutely chosen covers, a number related to or written by the guests involved. The album's star power certainly garnered attention, but it was the set's jubilant atmosphere, joyous eclectic flair, and inspired arrangements that pushed the band to its highest placing in the pop chart (just outside the Top 100). Inevitably, then, a second-anniversary set followed the next year. Less is known about this album, with annotator John Tobler suggesting that six of the tracks were initially begun for the first volume, but not, for unknown reasons, completed at the time -- these were subsequently finished off with only four new tracks recorded. He makes a good case, but only the most anal of fans will really care. In fact, Tobler raises more questions than he can answer, unstrung by his authoritative take on the first set. But the music is what's important, and although the name cachet was not as star-struck as its predecessor, the album was equally eclectic and entertaining. Considering the pair's history, and being -- as they are -- two parts of a whole, it's been a long time coming until they were finally reissued together on one disc. Delightfully defying genres, and proving yet again that country music doesn't necessarily start or end with a twang, this very Special set's appeal far exceeds the parameters of bluegrass, country, folk, or any of the other typical tags the Revue had earned.

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