april 2008

Various Artists
Rebel Records

Although it isn't sequenced as such, Rebel's exemplary Best Loved Bluegrass: 20 All-Time Favorites is something of a crash course in bluegrass history. Pioneering artists such as the Stanley Brothers (and Ralph Stanley solo), Mac Wiseman and Don Reno & Red Smiley (trading jaw-dropping, high-octane banjo and mandolin sorties in a blazing rendition of "John Henry") lay the foundation for the progressive representatives of the '60s and '70s (such as the Country Gentleman, via their definitive, close-harmonized ghost story, "Bringing Mary Home," and the towering Seldom Scene with a brooding version of the tragic ballad, "Darling Corey"), with modern-day progressive/traditional practitioners filling out the roster. That said, the music here is not only remarkably seamless—which says a lot about how bluegrass has so easily accommodated change without losing its essential character or signature sound, unlike every other style of popular music—it's by turns beautiful, moving and spiritually uplifting. And how about topical? Got it right here in the form of the wrenching nightmare of "Dream Of a Miner's Child," courtesy Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs, and Del McCoury's rambunctious "White House Blues" (okay, it references McKinley, not Bush, but the point is made), itself an occasion for a mandolin-banjo set-to comparable to the pyrotechnics of the aforementioned Reno & Smiley workout. Mac Wiseman harkens back to his own roots as a Bluegrass Boy with his Bill Monroe-faithful rendition of the classic "Footprints In the Snow," which incorporates an exuberant twin fiddle passage worthy of Bob Wills's Texas Playboys. The Boys from Indiana are represented with their timeless original version of the Civil War heartbreaker, "Atlanta Is Burning," amid solid entries by Larry Sparks, Claire Lynch, J.D. Crowe and others in this vital outburst of instrumental and vocal virtuosity, bluegrass style. A must-have anthology.—David McGee


Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024