When fiddle-playing Scottish and Irish immigrants brought their jigs, reels, and airs with them to the U.S., the Celtic music that they played eventually evolved into what we now know as bluegrass and country. Over the years, some artists have blurred the lines between bluegrass and country; that frequently happens on The Rough Guide to Bluegrass. This compilation isn't for bluegrass purists -- World Music Network takes an eclectic approach to the subject, and some of the tunes are closer to old-time country than bluegrass. But all of the selections have some type of Appalachian influence, which is the common denominator between the artists who provide hardcore bluegrass (Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys, Red Allen & the Kentuckians, Emerson & Waldron, the McCoury Brothers) and the artists who favor more of an old-time country approach (Hazel Dickens, the Johnson Mountain Boys). The CD even gets into country-pop; Claire Lynch's "Sweetheart Darlin' of Mine," for example, has a strong Dolly Parton influence, but minus the slick production values of modern Nashville. Meanwhile, banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck combines jazz and bluegrass on "Crossfire." Fusing jazz and hillbilly music isn't a new idea -- back in the 1930s, Bob Wills and his colleagues embraced a hillbilly/jazz hybrid that came to be known as Western swing. But Fleck is an innovator who, on some of his other recordings, has brought rock and funk as well as bluegrass to his jazz foundation. This compilation is hardly the last word on bluegrass -- how could it be without anything by the great Bill Monroe? But it does take an interesting and highly enjoyable look at some of the Appalachian and Appalachian-influenced sounds of recent decades.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson