Various Artists

Lonesome Valley [Manteca]

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Although traditional country, old-timey music, and Appalachian folk are all distinct musical genres with as many differences as similarities, in recent years they have all been increasingly lumped together in the public's perception as bluegrass, itself a distinct genre, and a relative newcomer to the dance at that. As frustrating as this trend is in some quarters, there's little doubt that albums like the T-Bone Burnett-produced O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack benefited from bending and blurring the boundaries in the various forms of what might be called mountain music (Burnett's soundtrack tossed in some blues and gospel, as well, making it a slick primer for American roots music), and that mix went down easy with the public, who called it all bluegrass and bought the album in droves, making it a surprise hit. This collection aims for a similar synthesis (leaving out the blues and gospel), opening and closing with tracks from the Carter Family, who are literally square one for country, and tossing in bits and pieces of traditional fare, some straight bluegrass, and some contemporary songs that sound ancient but actually aren't (Gillian Welch's "Acony Bell"). The end result means Lonesome Valley works with the same sort of easy grace that characterized the Burnett production, and should appeal to the same listeners. Some of it is bluegrass, some of it isn't, but filed under bluegrass is where you're going to find it in the box stores. Perception of reality and reality aren't the same thing, but if Doc Watson is bluegrass, then damn, bluegrass is something special indeed.

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