A collection that attempts to cover the various aspects of roots music in America. Given the extreme variety of traditional music forms from the country, this is a rather daunting task. Nonetheless, the compilers do a good job for the most part here, covering the majority of the important sectors, switching between classic performers and relatively unknown up-and-comers in the various genres. The album opens up with what will become the main focus genre for the album with Ralph Stanley's bluegrass. This example, however, hails from the late 19th century, making it one of the older styles available. Another bluegrass singer, this time female, follows. Steve Riley presents some contemporary Cajun stylings with the Mamou Playboys, and the album takes a turn for the older with Koko Taylor's classic "Voodoo Woman" as an example of the powerful female Chicago blues singers. Rebirth Brass Band founder Kermit Ruffins contributes a piece of old-style New Orleans jazz, complete with the trademark collective improvisation. Moving into the soul end of the spectrum from there, the Staple Singers show off Southern soul and Mahalia Jackson stands as the ultimate representative of gospel. Continuing in the south again, Rosie Ledet is presented as a rare female zydeco star with some serious drive in her music, and Flaco Jimenez shows off the Tejano sounds of his accordion. Big Mama Thornton is used for early rock & roll (though regrettably not with "Hound Dog"), the Soul Stirrers (with Sam Cooke) for newer gospel, and the duo of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie for folk. Muddy Waters brings the electric blues and Bill Monroe returns the album to bluegrass as the most famous instrumentalist of the genre. David Grisman's newgrass follows, paving the way for more country-oriented performances by Ricky Skaggs and a piece from the Carter Family archives. Tau Moe and Bob Brozman perform some Hawaiian steel and classic falsetto vocals, and the album finishes on the contemporary Native American forms embraced by Joanne Shenandoah. Given the enormity of the task at hand, the people at Rough Guide did a fine job of collecting the styles necessary to make a collection of American roots music. There are holes in styles here, certainly, but the majority of those holes have close relatives still represented. For a very basic single-album rundown of traditional American music, this album isn't a bad way to go.
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AllMusic Review by Adam Greenberg