Arguably, Roy Acuff was the Louis Armstrong of country -- a seminal figure who was a major influence on everyone from Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, and Cowboy Copas to Lefty Frizzell, Hank Snow, and Buck Owens. And that list of heavyweights barely scratches the surface. Acuff didn't invent country any more than Armstrong invented jazz, but his impact was tremendous. Assembled by Allegro's Roots of Country label in 2001, this two-CD collection focuses on Acuff's influential recordings of the 1930s and 1940s. Night Train to Memphis is full of definitive hits that inspired countless country legends, including "Tennessee Waltz," "Precious Jewel," "Wreck on the Highway," and the title track. Most of the material is secular, although "Brother Take Warning," "Prodigal Son," and "I'll Reap My Harvest in Heaven" are fine examples of country gospel. While the material is superb, many of Acuff's essential recordings are missing, including "Faded Love," "Wabash Cannonball," and "The Great Speckled Bird." One thing that collectors definitely won't like about Night Train to Memphis is the total absence of recording dates and personnel -- and, regrettably, several other country collections that Roots of Country provided in August 2001 had the same problem. Such laziness is inexcusable; collections of vintage material should always have recording dates, if available. But despite its shortcomings, this double CD has a lot of good points. All of the selections -- even the ones that aren't quite essential -- are captivating. Night Train to Memphis is hardly the last word on Acuff's legacy, but it's worth having in your collection if you can forgive the absence of recording dates and personnel.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2