Chet Atkins

Now and Then

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Up until the 1990s, this handsome double-LP set was the most recommendable -- and most affordable -- Chet Atkins anthology. It does its share of hunting through the vaults, starting with Atkins' first recording session in 1947 and continuing through a fine cross-section of his early, small-combo fingerpicking sides in the '40s and '50s. The early Django Reinhardt influence shows most explicitly in the rhythm backdrop to "Galloping on the Guitar," and there are such style-defining records as "Main Street Breakdown," "Country Gentleman," and the early rendition of "Walk, Don't Run" that inspired the Ventures. The late '50s bring on some effects experiments like the backwards dynamic attacks of the rock-ish "Trambone" and the proto-wah-wah effects of the delightfully peculiar "Boo Boo Stick Beat." Into the 1960s, the set quickly builds toward Atkins' biggest hit, "Yakety Axe," and chooses wisely among the prolific stream of tracks from uneven albums, staying away from orchestrated cover tunes until fairly late in the game, the last track of side three ("Mrs. Robinson"). The pickings in the late '60s and early '70s are especially good, with delectable things like the solo acoustic "The Odd Folks of Okracoke," Jerry Reed's tunefest "Steeplechase Lane," or the rambunctuous return to Atkins' rural roots on "Black Mountain Rag." The original album came with a handsome booklet containing several photos and a biography/interview of Atkins by Nashville writer Red O'Donnell where the guitarist is characteristically modest and self-critical. The sessions aren't documented as well as A Legendary Performer -- in fact, they're not documented at all except for the recording dates -- nor does it include many of the gems that other anthologies offer, nor is the temptation of fake stereo avoided on the mono tracks. But all told, this is the best summary of Atkins' contributions on the guitar up to that time.

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