In the '70s, Kicking Mule Records was to fingerpickers what Impulse! was to jazz, Fania was to salsa, and Philadelphia International was to Philly soul: a major player in their field. Back then, pickers were (and still are) acoustic guitar-playing instrumentalists who usually played unaccompanied and favored an earthy, blues-minded style of folk or folk-rock. Kicking Mule (whose catalog is now owned by Fantasy) wasn't the only major player in the picker field; John Fahey's Takoma Records (home of Robbie Basho and Leo Kottke) did a lot to put pickers on the map in the '60s. But if Takoma was the Motown of picker music, Kicking Mule was the picker equivalent of Philly International or Stax. Assembled by acoustic guitarist Dale Miller in 1997, this compilation spotlights five pickers who recorded for Kicking Mule: Bob Stanton, Chris Proctor, Nick Katzman, Bob Hadley, and Miller himself. All of the selections (which span 1975-1982) are solid -- if not straight-up excellent -- and all of them paint an attractive picture of Kicking Mule's contributions to picker music. In his liner notes, Miller makes an interesting observation about Hadley: He states that back in the '70s, he didn't think much of Hadley's playing and mistook his lack of flashiness for a lack of chops. But Miller goes on to say that he has since changed his mind about Hadley and is now a big admirer -- time has taught Miller that pyrotechnics aren't everything. Guitarist: Composer Sampler isn't the last word on Kicking Mule; there are no selections by Davey Graham, a talented British guitarist who did some recording for the label. Even so, this CD is well worth obtaining if a listener is seeking an introduction to Kicking Mule's '70s/early-'80s legacy.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson