Review: Jim & Jesse’s Radio Shows

I am not one of those people who is ultra-nostalgic for the past. The past was hard, and I tend to see progress as time goes by.

However, there are a few things about the early sixties that do make me nostalgic – one is the role of radio and another is old-time harmony. Jim and Jesse and the Virginia Boys Radio Shows perfectly satisfies both of these nostalgias.

This album, originally released in the seventies, consists of 24 live recordings (26 if you include the message about the sponsor) from Jim and Jesse’s weekly radio show in the early 1960s. If you aren’t familiar with live radio you will be pleasantly surprised by the easy simplicity of these recordings. Each song is presented with nothing but professionalism and joy, and no unnecessary adornment.

Jim and Jesse McReynolds were masters of the bluegrass vocal harmony (for more than 50 years!), and I just love their versions of the “Banks of the Ohio,” “Precious Memories,” and “Foggy Mountain Top.” And probably my favorite harmonies are on “Press On O Pilgrim.”

But their own compositions and instrumentals are equally impressive. I love “Diesel Train,” for example. Also, “Beer Barrel Polka” is a pretty great song even if you’re not a particular fan of polka or banjo, as I am.

There’s a song for almost every mood: moral angst (“Will There Be Any Stars In My Crown”), starting a new life chapter (“I’m Sitting On Top Of The World”), that rush you feel when you find new love (“Going Like Wildfire”), finding hope in the midst of despair (“Press On O Pilgrim”), and the feelings of bitter jealousy (“Everything She Touches Gets The Blues”, “I Cried Again”, “I Can’t Help Wondering”, “Banks Of The Ohio”, “There’s More Pretty Girls Than One”). Okay, mostly bitter jealousy, but this is a bluegrass album, after all.

“I Cried Again”

And they’ve included their jingles for Martha White Flour. Pretty sweet.

Jim and Jesse are joined on this album by Allen Shelton on banjo, Jim Buchanan on fiddle, David Sutherland on bass, and Don McHan on guitar and vocals. Jim McReynolds provided most of those amazing tenor vocals and guitar playing. Jesse McReynolds provided vocals and the fabulous mandolin playing.

I believe in albums, but if you’re just looking for a single track to buy on iTunes, I think you can’t go wrong with “Banks Of The Ohio” (old time harmonies), “Press On O Pilgrim” (gospel song), “Foggy Mountain Top” (bluegrass classic), or “Snowflake Breakdown” (instrumental).

This is a perfect album for a hot summer evening. As an added bonus, for those of you with ADHD, none of the tracks is longer than 2 and a half minutes. I have someone in my family, for example, who likes to skip any song that lasts longer than 5 minutes. However, if you’re like me, you’ll wish every track were longer and that this music lasts forever.

Rural Rhythm Records

Robin Gustafson

Robin was raised on traditional, Appalachian mountain music, bluegrass music, and protest music. She has taken lessons in banjo and guitar although, sadly, these instruments did not get her to the Grand Ol' Opry. Instead, Robin sings in a choir here in the Hudson Valley, and she sing all kinds of harmony at Pinewoods Camp during the summer. When not singing, she is a cognitive scientist who studies how song and dance affect cognitive functioning.

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