Hearing a title like The Complete Vanguard Recordings sounds a little daunting, like some of the 12-disc Bear Family boxed sets. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as a matter of fact), the Country Gentlemen only released two LPs for the Vanguard label in the early '70s, so their complete output fit neatly on CD for this 2002 reissue. In this era, the group featured future bluegrass luminaries Doyle Lawson, Ricky Skaggs, Mike Auldridge, and Jerry Douglas alongside the established legends guitarist/vocalist Charlie Waller and banjo player Bill Emerson. With talented artists like these, it comes as no surprise that the music is top-notch -- the thing that really sets these recordings apart is the fact that the band was choosing to perform songs by decidedly non-bluegrass musicians such as John Prine, Gordon Lightfoot, Paul Simon, and Kris Kristofferson, and still managing to transform these progressive songwriters' works into down-home stomps. Another interesting hindsight is to hear the emerging voices of Skaggs and Lawson harmonizing with Waller, progressively getting bolder and finding their own sound. While the songs on 1973's The Country Gentlemen are the most traditional-sounding on the disc, the later material from 1974's Remembrances & Forecasts best-illustrates the group's push into increasingly progressive material like the vaudevillian "Heartaches" and Skaggs' own split-stereo "Irish Spring." While this album could be seen as an archival document, it works best as a living and breathing work to be listened to and enjoyed 30 years later, even more so than when the music originally was released.
AllMusic Review by Zac Johnson