Classic Bluegrass from Smithsonian Folkways

Various Artists

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Classic Bluegrass from Smithsonian Folkways Review

by Rick Anderson

While bluegrass samplers are by no means rare, it's unusual to encounter one as well thought-out as this generous (and mid-priced) package from Smithsonian Folkways, the folk label known more for its ethnomusicological field recordings than its bluegrass albums. Cynics will point out that this collection comes hot on the heels of the success of the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? and its soundtrack, but they miss the point: if bluegrass becomes trendy for a while and the result is fine albums like this one that wouldn't otherwise have an audience, then everyone benefits. The artists on Classic Bluegrass From Smithsonian Folkways range from the obvious (Bill Monroe, the Country Gentlemen, Doc Watson, the Stanley Brothers) through the influential but obscure (Red Allen, the Lilly Brothers) to the just plain obscure (Smiley Hobbs, Hugh Moore, banjo innovator Roger Sprung), and the result is a thorough overview that offers as much musical satisfaction as scholarly edification. Many of the songs selected were recorded live, and those are among the best performances: the Johnson Mountain Boys deliver a bit of pitch-perfect high-lonesome heartbreak on "Our Last Goodbye," while the Friendly City Playboys kick things into high gear with the hard-edged "Teardrops in My Eyes." Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard illustrate an important thematic stream in bluegrass songwriting with their rendition of the horrifying "Tiny Broken Heart," and the Stanley Brothers reveal some of the roots of bluegrass with their performance of "Little Birdie" (on which Ralph Stanley plays banjo in the older "clawhammer" style). Highly recommended, especially to anyone looking for an introduction to the genre.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Earl Taylor 02:01 SpotifyAmazon
2 The Johnson Mountain Boys 02:35 SpotifyAmazon
Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys 02:48 SpotifyAmazon
4 Hazel Dickens / Alice Gerrard 03:05 SpotifyAmazon
5 Red Allen / The Kentuckians / Frank Wakefield 02:34 SpotifyAmazon
Harley Allen / Harley Allen Jr. / Mike Lilly 02:40 SpotifyAmazon
7 Nashville Grass 03:10 SpotifyAmazon
8 The Friendly City Playboys 02:29 SpotifyAmazon
9 Snuffy Jenkins 01:33 SpotifyAmazon
10 Red Allen / The Kentuckians 02:47 SpotifyAmazon
11 Roger Sprung / Doc Watson 02:40 SpotifyAmazon
12 Hugh Moore 02:22 SpotifyAmazon
The Country Gentlemen 02:36 SpotifyAmazon
Roni Stoneman 01:14 SpotifyAmazon
15 Doc Watson 02:19 SpotifyAmazon
16 The New Lost City Ramblers 03:31 SpotifyAmazon
17 The Stanley Brothers 02:40 SpotifyAmazon
18 The Stanley Brothers 02:24 SpotifyAmazon
David & Billie Ray Johnson 02:50 SpotifyAmazon
The Virginia Mountain Boys / Cullen Gaylean 05:10 SpotifyAmazon
Lonesome Strangers 01:03 SpotifyAmazon
22 Hazel Dickens 03:00 SpotifyAmazon
Smiley Hobbs 02:22 SpotifyAmazon
24 The Lilly Brothers / Don Stover 03:06 SpotifyAmazon
25 Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys 02:36 SpotifyAmazon
blue highlight denotes track pick