"The Paganini of the banjo"'s finest moments are collected on Columbia/Legacy's aptly named Essential Earl Scruggs. Unlike many other "best-of" collections, this two-disc set gathers tracks from nearly all of the stages of Scruggs' career, from his early days as one of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, through his genre-defining work with Lester Flatt, and a sampling of his solo career, including his appearances with Hylo Brown, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and leading his own Earl Scruggs Revue. Informative liner notes by historian Rich Kienzle, banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck, and Scruggs himself illustrate the man behind the fingers, and the recording quality of the music is clear and consistent throughout. Hearing all of this pickin' in one place really reminds the listener how vital Scruggs was in popularizing the sound of bluegrass in the '40s, '50s, and '60s, and his innovations through the '70s and '80s. While stronger collections of Flatt & Scruggs and Bill Monroe recordings are available, none showcase the man behind the banjo as completely as this fine compilation does.