CD Review: Bluegrass Number One Hits by Various Artists

The picture on the front of this disc is of an attractive woman in a cotton dress, strolling down a country lane (in heels!), carrying a banjo. So, I’ll admit to being a little skeptical before ever hearing these Bluegrass Number One Hits by a variety of established bluegrass artists.

Not being one to judge an album by its cover– and giving the good folk of Rounder Records the benefit of the doubt for their continued advancement of bluegrass and acoustic music–I gave a listen and was impressed by the variety and quality of the tracks presented.

As the title suggests, these songs have already been approved by a majority of bluegrass lovers, and so the music itself is somewhat beyond reproach. From the blisteringly fast opener, “Sweet Carrie” by Dailey and Vincent on, the record features a balanced collection of chart-toppers intended, I presume, to encourage bluegrass fans to delve deeper into the back catalogs of these artists; no doubt lining the pockets of all concerned in the process.

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J.D. Crowe & The New South – “Lefty’s Old Guitar”

Putting cynicism aside, it has to be said that for any bluegrass fan, the sampler is a great place to discover the music of artists not yet in your collection. Alison Krauss fans, for example, may not be familiar with the solo work of Union Station member Dan Tyminski, whose own “Wheels” is included here along with “Rain Please Go Away” performed with A.K.U.S. “Lefty’s Old Guitar” by J.D. Crowe and the New South may lead to an interest in the music of Lefty Frizzell and so on. The connections created when we discover new music are, for many of us, part of what makes bluegrass so enjoyable. Finding out who wrote or originally recorded a song, along with the history of the artists, leads us to new, enriching musical discoveries.

That being said, the liner notes here are a little disappointing. With the exception of the name of the album from which the track was taken, the listener is required to do their own research if they are to learn anything useful about these songs or performers. The pedigrees of Charlie Sizemore, Doyle Lawson, Rhonda Vincent, Claire Lynch, Blue Highway and The Grascals are not in dispute, but a little more background and perhaps a few more tracks (there are only 12 here), would have enhanced everyone’s experience.

For bluegrass devotees not familiar with any of the acts mentioned above or, possibly, music lovers who are unfamiliar with bluegrass, this collection makes a great introduction. Though a well-rounded presentation of top-notch contemporary bluegrass, this album still has a ‘recycled’ feel to it. Fortunately, in the end, the quality of the songs shines through, proving that great music sometimes comes in poor packages.

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