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Can't You Hear Me Callin'
Bluegrass: 80 Years Of
American Music

Review By Steven Stone
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Can't You Hear Me Callin' Bluegrass: 80 Years Of American Music

CD Number: Sony Legacy C4K 90628 

 

  Trying to encompass all the most important performers and songs of a particular musical genre into one multi-disc set seems like an exercise in futility. On Can't You Hear Me Callin'; Bluegrass: 80 Years of American Music Sony's Legacy division attempts to do just that. Although such an undertaking is almost guaranteed to fail, this disc comes as close to succeeding as a comprehensive anthology as any I've heard.

The first disc of this four CD set covers pre-bluegrass artists who influenced Bill Monroe as well as many of Bill's early releases. Artists include Gid Tanner and his Skillet Lickers, Charlie Poole, The Carter Family, Roy Acuff, Roy Hall, The Bailes Brothers, Molly O'Day, and the Coon Creek Girls.  The Bill Monroe sides include "Blue Moon of Kentucky," " Rocky Road Blues," Will You Be Loving Another Man," "Mighty Dark to Travel," " Molly and Tenbrooks," and "Bluegrass Breakdown." This 27 song CD certainly gets the set off to a running start.

The second CD includes selections from Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Molly O'Day, the Stanley Brothers, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, Carl Story, Jack Youngblood, Jimmy Martin, and the Osborne Brothers. All the material here comes from the "golden age" of bluegrass from the late ‘40's to the late ‘50's. Trying to pick a standout cut from this disc is like choosing the cutest flea off a dog's back. Impossible.

The third CD spans the late 50's through the mid 70's when bluegrass lost much of its audience and artists were forced to use novelty as well as to draw from more pop influences. Artists represented include Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, the Webster Brothers, Bill and Mary Reid, Carl Butler, Arthur Smith, Don Reno, the Osborne Brothers, the Louvin Brothers, Jim and Jesse, Jimmy Martin, Grandpa Jones, and Eric Weisberg. Although Bill Monroe's recorded output dropped during this time, he was still very active with touring and radio shows. Too bad some of his live material was not included so we could hear how Bill's material changed and evolved during this more difficult period.

The final CD in the set attempts to show how bluegrass influenced pop and rock as well as showcase current bluegrass/country performers. Although it contains some memorable selections by The Byrds during the period when Clarence White played with them, by and large the selections here seem arbitrary. In some cases, such as the Dixie Chicks and Patty Loveless selections, commercial considerations have far outweighed pedagogical ones. I think that concentrating on the many fine contemporary bluegrass acts would have made for a much stronger last CD. Instead of coming away with the impression that bluegrass music has run its course and become assimilated by the Borg of contemporary pop, listeners could have discovered that bluegrass practitioners are still refining and expanding the genre.

Overall sound quality for this four-disc set varies from acceptable to very good indeed. Naturally, the earliest recordings generally suffer from the least palatable sound. But some of the selections on disc three recorded in the mid 70's sound extremely compressed, victims of the then current state-of-the–art multi-tracking technology. Fortunately the most musically important material, such as Bill Monroe's songs from the late forties and early fifties, are among the best sounding of the older selections. Especially compared to many of the Monroe reissues I've heard from the late 70's and early 80's, these tracks sound quite wonderful. My hat is off to mastering engineer Vic Anesini and disc transfer engineers Matt Cavaluzzo, Andreas Meyer, and Ken Robertson for their fine work on this set.

Assembling the perfect anthology to cover 80 years of music is roughly akin to building an amusement park where everyone always has a great time. Given the challenging nature of his task producer Greg Geller has amassed a set that deserves to be enjoyed by anyone who cares about this classic American musical genre.

 

 

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