Various Artists

Mountain Breakdown: The Bluegrass Collection

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It doesn't say so anywhere on the packaging, but this 19-song collection of instrumentals -- and very good ones, played with skill, fire, and taste -- is actually largely, and perhaps wholly, taken from obscure instrumental folk albums from circa 1963-1964. This isn't merely an absence of exact dates and original release information, either (though that certainly would have been nice to have). There's not a single indication that these recordings mostly or, in an educated guess, wholly date from the early-'60s folk revival, despite an eight-page booklet with liner notes; there's no indication whatsoever of any era in which they were recorded. This utter lack of documentation is pretty shameful. But getting past that, this is a pretty good record, and notable for some little-known early appearances by major folk-rock and folk musicians. In fact, with the exception of Billy Cheatwood, every one of the guitarists and banjo players here is a big name or a reasonably well-known instrumentalist: Roger McGuinn, Joe Maphis, Eric Weissberg, Dick Weisman, David Lindley, Dick Rosmini, Mike Seeger, Mason Williams, and Erik Darling. The tracks by McGuinn and Lindley might be particularly appealing to folk-rock collectors, having been waxed before McGuinn founded the Byrds or Lindley was in Kaleidoscope. Even if the tracks bore no names (and at least the liner notes do list those), anyone would have to note that there's some real hot picking and imaginative arrangements here. Actually, it's pretty consistent throughout, but some standouts include McGuinn's brief "Banjo Bach"; Weissberg's "Feuding Banjos," a precursor to his 1973 smash "Dueling Banjos"; Maphis' "Banjo Workout" and "Joe's Breakdown," with his characteristic super-speedy playing; the young Lindley's self-penned "Mad Mountain Medley"; and Cheatwood's "Hundreds of Miles," which has a darker feel than most bluegrass tunes.

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