Various Artists

The Road to Nashville: A History of Country Music 1926-1953

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It's true that a really comprehensive history of pre-mid-'50s country music needs more than three CDs, even ones that include 25 songs per disc, as this 75-track package does. It's also true that given unlimited parameters as to what to license, it's likely that some experts could have put together a more definitive anthology of this sort, even limited to a total of 75 songs. And it's certainly true that such an anthology could benefit from better documentation than the pretty perfunctory 12-page booklet here, which doesn't even supply any original release information other than the year of issue. All those reservations brushed out of the way, this is nevertheless a terrific retrospective of highlights from country music's early decades, one that can be heartily enjoyed by many listeners who aren't overly particular about collecting the best possible combination of tracks along with detailed liner notes. The compilation samples from many of the best and most important country pioneers, from Vernon Dalhart, the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and Dave Macon through Patsy Montana, Ernest Tubb, Bob Wills, the Maddox Brothers & Rose, the Sons of the Pioneers, and the Delmore Brothers, all the way up to more modern stars like Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Kitty Wells, Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Lefty Frizzell, Eddy Arnold, and Marty Robbins. Along the way, all of the key early country styles are covered: Appalachian folk origins, yodels, cowboy ballads, Western swing, bluegrass, country boogie, close harmony brother teams, honky tonk, hillbilly, Cajun, and early mergers of country and pop. Numerous tracks are major country classics, like Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers' "Ida Red," Jimmie Rodgers' "Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas)," the Shelton Brothers' "Just Because," Bob Wills' "San Antonio Rose," Tommy Duncan's "Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy," the Delmore Brothers' "Blues Stay Away from Me," Tex Williams' "Smoke Smoke Smoke," Hank Snow's "I'm Movin' On," Ernest Tubb's "Walking the Floor," Hank Thompson's "The Wild Side of Life," Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky," Flatt & Scruggs' "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," and Eddy Arnold's "Cattle Call." Yet there are also a good number of tunes that won't be automatically familiar even to knowledgeable popular music fans -- Martha Carson's gospel-fueled "Satisfied" is one such highlight -- as well as a few songs that contained seeds of rockabilly and rock & roll, like Cliff Bruner's "Milk Cow Blues," Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith's "Guitar Boogie," Tennessee Ernie Ford's "The Shot Gun Boogie," and Snow's "I'm Movin' On." It makes for one of the better large surveys of its kind, though not one that's dressed with elaborate trimmings.

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