Various Artists

Country Music & Bluegrass at Newport: 1963

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Vanguard chopped up its live recordings from the famous 1963 Newport Folk Festival into little chunks based on stylistic labels, and the result is a little confusing. Doc Watson, for example, shows up on both this set and the one devoted to old-timey music, and obviously the performances on the two different albums come from the same set. The same goes for the various combinations of Watson with Clarence Tom Ashley, Clint Howard, and others. The New Lost City Ramblers show up on this album, although they never referred to themselves as anything but an old-timey group. (They are also on the old-timey set, if that is any consolation.) The entire enterprise smacks of the manic urge to define all these different types of folk music in the '60s, as if listening to them wasn't enough. Depending on one's outlook, both bluegrass and old-timey music can easily be considered part of the bluegrass family. And again, depending on the listener's outlook, there might not be a single track on this collection that might actually be considered country, as in the most typical use of this term as a shortened version of country & western. The best approach is to peel the labels off the bottles and just enjoy the fine music, of which there is plenty here. Things kick off with Jim and Jesse and the Virginia Boys, a bluegrass group to be sure and a darned good one. This group gets a total of four tracks, including the great "Dill Pickle Rag" and the haunting "She Left Me Standing on the Mountain." Mac Wiseman is an artist who has made country & western records, but his tracks here are from the sentimental old-timey repertoire, such as the maudlin "Little Footsteps in the Snow." Watson is featured on a pair of guitar solos that shimmer with expertise and inspiration, and joins three other players for part of what must have been a round robin. Ashley takes the vocal on "The Girl I Loved in Sunny Tennessee," and it is one of the highlights of the record. The New Lost City Ramblers pass the vocals around on their three tracks, each man taking charge for a tune. This group is best appreciated on their own albums; coming right after Doc Watson, the group's efforts sound a bit flabby. A pity that the final performer, Tex Logan, gets only one track. Logan is a fascinating fiddler whose discography is unfortunately limited, and more examples of his work would have made this set even more valuable. In general, the brevity of some of the performances might disappoint some listeners, giving one the impression of a festival emcee hustling people off- and on-stage as quickly as possible.

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