Various Artists

Route 50: Driving New Roots for Fifty Years

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This 50th anniversary sampler ("sampler," not "best-of" or something like that, is the term used on the sleeve) commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vanguard label. Vanguard has recorded some important music, particularly in the folk, blues, and folk-rock fields in the 1960s. This is not the best way to get acquainted with its catalog, due to its incomplete survey of its most significant holdings, the questionable choice of some of the tracks, and the uneven listening that's guaranteed by interspersing different styles with each other. Disc one is devoted to songs, largely from the 1960s or slightly afterward, compiled from the label's Session Series, and virtually every artist included is significant: James Cotton, Buddy Guy, Odetta, Doc Watson, John Hammond, Charlie Musselwhite, Junior Wells, Ian & Sylvia, Jerry Jeff Walker, Richard & Mimi Fariña, Jim Kweskin, Big Mama Thornton, Otis Spann, Larry Coryell, Sandy Bull, the Clancy Brothers, and Eric Andersen are all on board. Not all of them are shown to their best advantage, however, with one of their best or even better tracks, although you can hear unquestioned highlights like Skip James' "I'm So Glad" and Andersen's "Close the Door Lightly When You Go." What's more curious is that some of Vanguard's most significant artists are missing, including Joan Baez (who was, after all, their most popular star), the Weavers, and Country Joe & the Fish. The second disc is devoted to more contemporary artists, usually singer/songwriters with folk-rock roots as heard on 1990s albums. Although Peter Case and Ian Tyson are notable achievers, overall the performers pale in importance next to Vanguard's earlier rosters. No original release dates are given in the track listing. It's hard to envision what consumers this might satisfy; it's more apt to serve as a sampler to help someone, say a retailer or prospective Vanguard investor, get a grip on what's in the company's catalog.

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