Various Artists

The Best of Traditional American Bluegrass

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Calling this 20-track collection bluegrass isn’t exactly accurate, because most of it isn’t bluegrass at all. Bluegrass came into being because of the same technological thing that made rock & roll possible -- electric amplification, which allowed instrumentalists who previously played as part of a group sound ensemble to step forward to the microphone and deliver clearly audible solos. Prior to such amplification, old-time string bands depended on forceful group playing to get people to listen and dance, and if the group was lucky, it might have had an explosive fiddle player who could rise above the group sound and give the song some extra texture. No, what’s here is the kind of music played before bluegrass came into being, including Grayson & Whitter's classic original of “Tom Dooley” from the late '20s, the Prairie Ramblers' string band take on “Shady Grove,” Dick Weissman's beautiful, delicate banjo playing on “Old Joe Clark,” and lovely two-part harmonies from the Kossoy Sisters on “Wagoner’s Lad.” None of it is bluegrass, at least not as we currently think of the genre, but it’s still a lot of fun, and suggests a time when plugging in wasn’t even an option.

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