While they may not have been the most dynamic of the Appalachian string bands of the early '20s, the Carter Family was certainly the most subtly innovative, beginning with Maybelle Carter's bass string-heavy guitar playing. Combined with A.P. Carter's knack for spotting a good song and the trio's clear, haunting vocal style, the music they made has given them a secure spot as country's first big stars. More importantly, A.P.'s collection of Appalachian folk songs (although he is listed as the composer of many of them, he simply collected and refined them) has given American country music a solid historical base and he undoubtedly saved countless songs from oblivion (songs like "Coal Miner's Blues," "No Depression," "Engine 143," and "The Little Black Train" can have their survival into the 21st century traced to the versions that the Carter Family recorded). The Carter Family's recording career officially ended on October 14, 1941 when the original line up of A.P., Sara, and Maybelle did a final session for Victor Records, but it wasn't really the end of the story. Sometime preacher and borderline con man Clifford Spurlock approached A.P. a dozen or so years later about reuniting the trio for a series of recordings for his Acme Record Company. Maybelle had established herself as an artist in her own right by this time, so A.P. took Sara and their children Janette and Joe Carter into the studio for sessions in 1952 and then again four years later in 1956, essentially tracking do-overs of previous Carter Family songs like "Keep on the Sunny Side," "Wildwood Flower," and "Wabash Cannonball" along with several religious and sacred titles and the occasional new song. Most of these "comeback" recordings were either never officially released or were distributed poorly and this two-disc, 58-track set is the first time they've all been compiled and assembled together. There's nothing startling here (unless you count the corny and intrusive train sound effects that someone thought would be a good idea to add to "Wabash Cannonball"), and while "new" songs like the "Railroading on the Great Divide" and "The Titanic" are minor treasures, these Acme sessions function more as an addendum to the earlier Victor material rather than as any kind of major restatement of the basic template. That said, collectors will love this set, and if the Carter Family didn't exactly invent the wheel with these 1950s recordings, they didn't really have to, since they pretty much perfected the wheel thirty years earlier.
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