As genres of music go, Western swing has got to be one of the most fun. Instrumental dexterity abounds and there are lots of sparkling tunes and many aspects of what makes jazz so exciting without the heavy intellectual baggage that the latter form sometimes drags along behind it like a steamer trunk. The Old Timey subsidiary of Arhoolie began what would be a whole series of Western swing anthologies with this set. Early pressings do not indicate that this is volume one, however, so perhaps initial plans were more modest. This collection is really quite unique. It includes a generous portion of Bob Wills, of course. There are also performances from the Lightcrust Doughboys and Milton Brown & His Brownies, both following a similar direction to Wills. The tracks by the Hackberry Ramblers, recorded in New Orleans, have much more of a Cajun influence and could have easily been included in an anthology from that genre. Bill Boyd & His Cowboy Ramblers don't quite have the virtuosity of the other groups, but provide an enjoyable example of the link between so-called cowboy music and this new, jazz-influenced style. The youngest track comes from the late '40s and fiddler Harry Choates. Fans of the late-period Merle Haggard album If I Could Only Fly, of which there are many, will be interested to hear the Choates track "Rubber Dolly"; it is the fiddle tune that is referred to both instrumentally and in the lyrics to that album's delightful song, "Thanks to Uncle John." Although some editors might have been tempted to program these tracks in chronological order, in this case Chris Strachwitz used a purely musical approach to sequencing that works wonderfully. This album is both a good introduction to Western swing for the novice as well as a collection that has plenty to offer the listener who have may have heard plenty already. Many of the hot-shot pickers associated with this music are on hand. There is no information provided about who might have composed the tunes on the record.
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AllMusic Review by Eugene Chadbourne