Various Artists

Early Days of Bluegrass, Vol. 3: New Sounds Ramblin' from Coast to Coast

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There are some tracks on this set that are absolute gems, as good as anything in any bluegrass collection. Looked at as an album, the diversity represented in this selection of pieces recorded over a decade-and-a-half is supposedly part of the idea, but results in a volume that is best appreciated as part of the entire Rounder Early Days of Bluegrass series than on its own. And appreciate this series is something bluegrass fans definitely do, some of them establishing small altars to the albums in a corner of the listening room. This third volume does establish that groups and recordings were being formed and made in many different parts of the country as the '50s rolled along, not just Nashville and the Appalachians. Even the later tracks demonstrate that not much of a rift existed between bluegrass and country & western at this stage of the game, with some of the music even venturing into the western cowboy song genre. There are also touches appropriate to country, generally restricted from bluegrass, including electric guitar and piano. Bluegrass was still a new enough style that associating with it wouldn't make a country performer sound "old-fashioned" -- and this material was recorded at least 30 years before country performers would want to be considered out of touch with the latest trends. Of the 16 tracks, one-fourth are by the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, a great band that made a series of albums with a revolving lineup. Collectors will find the work of the more obscure artists the most exciting to unearth, especially when the result is something as magnificent as the "Orange Blossom Special" performed by Jerry & Sky. This bluegrass warhorse, the subject of instrumental hamming both hideous and horrifying in the hands of a Doug Kershaw or Charlie Daniels, might just be a number listeners have sworn off experiencing ever again, unless made to by force. Well, sit tight, for this version features not only ferocious mandolin tweaking by Ralph Jones, but ends with train sound effects done by an unidentified violinist that are so vicious they would make avant-garde noise violinist Polly Bradfield grind her teeth. Then there's Hack Johnson, certainly no hack. His version of "Home Sweet Home" with His Tennesseans proves that this standard makes a most perfect bluegrass number, and will never sound good any other way, be it ever so humble. Other great acts featured in this collection include the picking team of Rebe Gosdin and Rabe Perkins known as Rebe & Rabe and the superb Colwell Brothers, an example of early-'50s Hollywood bluegrass. Terrific pickers such as banjoists Allen Shelton, Joe Maphis, and Noah Crase, flatpicker Jimmy Martin, and fiddler Nelson Young are all part of the action. Hillbilly jokes can be made about the Eubanks Brothers spelling the name of their peace song "Message for Piece," but maybe that's not "the kinda piece them boys is after," as they would say up in the hills.

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