various artists,
The Rough Guide to Bluegrass
(World Music Network, 2001)

The Rough Guide to Bluegrass is the very best bluegrass compilation album I've heard. One reason is its length; the twenty-one tracks play for over an hour, and all are excellent. The styles are diverse and offer a comprehensive introduction to the varieties of bluegrass, from classic banjo-picking of "Hello City Limits," the proto-country wails of "My Better Years" and the gospel classic "Brighter Mansion," right through to Bela Fleck's exciting blend of bluegrass and jazz. Still, the emphasis is appropriately on traditional sounds, even from artists that work in a broader range.

No one track stands out in this compilation, only because they're all so good. Alison Krauss is a personal favorite of mine, and I was pleased to see her "Every Time You Say Goodbye" (with Union Station) included. I also liked Claire Lynch's old-time "Sweetheart, Darlin' of Mine" and IIIrd Tyme Out's "Can't Say Goodbye," with its pinch of blues. But if I keep this up I'll list all the tracks!

The album's pacing and arrangement was extremely well done. This is difficult to do on a compilation, and particularly so when the point is to include many styles and sounds. The producers did an excellent job meeting this challenge, and the result is a diverse album with no jarring transitions.

The liner notes are excellent, too. There's a brief explanation of the roots and development of bluegrass, and a paragraph on each of the artists. The discography is wonderful, offering all the information you'll need to find the sources of each of the songs.

I recommend this album wholeheartedly to anyone with an interest in bluegrass but who does not yet have an extensive collection. it would also be interesting to fans of country and rockabilly, as an exciting introduction to the music from which their genres sprung. And I look forward to finding more of the Rough Guides to other styles, especially ones I'm curious about.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]



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