Continuing in their now feverish quest to reissue every single thing Moses Asch ever released on CD, the folks at Smithsonian have pulled from the catalog a true gem, added six more tracks, and given it to listeners to marvel over. The Country Gentlemen were the inspiration for pickers from Norman Blake to Clarence White to Tony Rice and every third-generation member in Del McCoury's band -- not to mention the New Grass Revival and David Grisman. The original album was a compilation of the best moments of two concerts in 1962 and 1963, respectively; the Smithsonian added six tracks from a third concert in 1963 to round out the time and offer a further glimpse into the mysterious, passionate musicality of the band. This is a live document of the band at the beginning of their maturity, with a style already etched in stone. Here is the perfect blending of folk music, country music, and bluegrass, all offered to an American public who was rediscovering its own folk traditions musically. This obviously knocked out a young Bob Dylan who continues to cover the Country Gentlemen's version of "Handsome Molly." Banjoist Eddie Adcock, guitarist and lead vocalist Charlie Waller, mandolin player John Duffey, and bassist Tom Gray worked through folk songs like a bluegrass band and bluegrass tunes like an old-timey string band full of ballad singers. Their version of "Long Black Veil" on this record is what made Johnny Cash decide to cut it for himself. The instrumental "Heartaches" is literally a fusion of bluegrass and gypsy swing reads through a blues idiom, and their reading of their "I Am a Pilgrim" is the most bluesed-out reading that worn hymn will ever get. It is also the finest example of the gorgeous vocal harmony between Duffey and Waller. There are no sharp spots in their midst, just pure vocal consonance. This record is an awesome example of the radical yet beautiful and respectful shift of Bill Monroe's bluegrass creation to a more expansive view of the same tradition that was just as soulful, just as pure.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek