CD Reviews for 07/01/05 -George Jones & Friends, Flatt & Scruggs reissues, & Festival Watch by D…

Recent collections from the Legacy Recordings arm of Sony Music occupy the spotlight for next two weeks. For those unfamiliar with the Legacy imprint of Sony Music, it is one of the leading reissue houses in the world, let alone the U.S. At its disposal is a massive archive of recordings housed in the Columbia, Epic and associated labels’ vaults, including Philadelphia International, OKeh, ARC, Vocalion, and Brunswick, as well as such acquired imprints as CTI, Ode and more. Legacy releases typically combine state-of-the-art remastering technology with comprehensive liner notes, track information and rare and historic photos. The latest batch of goodies from Legacy is no exception. Leading the charge is a brand new two CD collection from arguably the greatest country singer of all time, George Jones. Banjo god Earl Scruggs is the focal point of three new collections, two of which feature he with his partner Lester Flatt and a third solo recording. Also new is the continuation of Legacy’s “Essential” series with the two most recent installments showcasing stalwarts Dolly Parton and Marty Robbins. Rounding things out is a reissue of the original soundtrack to the Dukes of Hazzard television series and a reissue of the 1984 Ray Charles release Friendship on which he was paired with a variety of early 1980s heavy hitters from the country singer ranks.

Jones & Friends

When it comes to partnering with other singers on record, Willie Nelson has always been the king. At least, that’s what I always thought. With the release of the two-CD collection George Jones: My Very Special Guests (Legacy E2K-92562), Mr. Jones makes a strong case for supremacy on the duet front. The album features the Possum with a wide variety of guest singers, some 37, to be exact. The lift-off point for this collection is the 1979 release My Very Special Guests. One of the first albums of its kind, that being the teaming of a veteran singer with various other singers, it laid the groundwork for what has since become a regular occurrence in the recording world. This updated version of the album features the entirety of that 10 track, 1979 release which found the likes of Waylon Jennings, Johnny Paycheck, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Tammy Wynette, Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello, and Pops and Mavis Staples sharing the microphone with Jones. Added to that are some 27 additional tracks featuring Jones in the co-singer role. The source of these range from Jones’ appearance on the 1978 Johnny Cash album Silver singing “I Got Stripes” with The Man In Black to a duet with Patty Loveless on the song “You Don’t Seem To Miss Me” from her 1997 album Long Stretch of Lonesome. In between, the looks are plenty and mostly country with Jones teaming with both old and new country artists from Merle Haggard to Loretta Lynn to Buck Owens and Alan Jackson to Randy Travis. He even breaks from the straight-up country stuff for duets with B.B. King, Shelby Lynne, and the late Ray Charles. Whereas there’s a clunker or two amongst the 37 tracks, Jones is more often than not the epitome of surety be it the hard country of “Bartenders Blues” with James Taylor or the big production of “Patches” with B.B. King.

Flatt & Scruggs:

What with already logging performances this year at such esteemed music festivals as Bonnaroo and Merlefest and an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame called “Banjo Man” that surveys his life and career, 2005 has been a banner year for banjo god Earl Scruggs. Legacy Recording keeps the Scruggs flag-a flyin’ with the release of three separate collections showcasing the trailblazing five-string legend. First up is a reissue of the 1957 Flatt & Scruggs album Foggy Mountain Jamboree (Legacy CK92801). Ask any bluegrass history buff to name the top 10 bluegrass albums of all time and here’s betting they’d be hard-pressed to leave this longplayer off the list. Featuring Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs with their Foggy Mountain Boys band, the album represented the duo at arguably its most powerful. With three bonus tracks added to the original dozen album tracks, the album mixes blistering instrumentals and soulful vocal numbers. Included on Foggy Mountain Jamboree are such landmark numbers in the annals of bluegrass as “Flint Hill Special”, “Jimmie Brown, The Newsboy”, “Shuckin’ the Corn”, “Blue Ridge Cabin Home”, “Foggy Mountain Chimes” and “It Won’t Be Long”, all of which to this day bluegrass musicians day cut their teeth.
Personally speaking, some of my most favorite Flatt & Scruggs material is their gospel work. Featuring 52 of the duo’s finest recordings from the sacred side of the fence, the two-disc compilation Foggy Mountain Gospel offers a big gulp of bluegrass gospel music from this storied duo. Gathering recordings from the 1951 to 1966 time period, the collection marks the first time many of these sides have been available on CD. With Flatt with his calming, soulful voice handling nearly all the vocal leads and Scruggs dividing his duties between the banjo and some flawless flatpicking on the guitar, gospel music, let alone bluegrass, doesn’t get much better than the offerings found on Foggy Mountain Gospel.
Rounding things out is a reissue of Mr. Scruggs’ 1971 solo debut I Saw The Light With A Little Help From My Friends (Legacy CK92793). The 14-track reissue features the original 11 album tracks plus three bonus cuts, two of which come from the original sessions. A mixture of members of the Earl Scruggs Revue, which included sons Gary, Randy and Steve, along with fiddle player Vassar Clements and some of Nashville’s finest studio musicians of that era, provide accompaniment. Add to that lineup a collection of guests ranging from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to the duo of Linda Ronstadt and Tracy Nelson to Arlo Guthrie and the sum total was a bang-up affair that combined classics from the folk and country traditions with contemporary works from the likes of Steve Young, Mike Nesmith and Jeff Hanna. (Legacy Recordings, 550 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022, or

Mid-July is the time for one of the pre-eminent bluegrass festivals in the land, the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival which takes place from July 14 – 17 at the bucolic, mountain-top locale of the Rothvoss Farm. About 3 to 4 hours driving time from these parts in tiny Ancramdale, New York, the locale is near the convergence of the borders of New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Celebrating its 29th year of operation, the 2005 lineup represents a who’s who of performers from both the traditional and contemporary bluegrass and acoustic music worlds. The Dry Branch Fire Squad will once again play host for the four-day extravaganza. This year’s performers include the David Grisman Quintet, Peter Rowan’s All-Star Bluegrass Jam, Sam Bush Band, Del McCoury Band, Tim O’Brien Band, Seldom Scene, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Psychograss, John Cowan Band, The Gibson Brothers, James King Band, Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings, Laurie Lewis & Tom Rozum, King Wilkie, Adrienne Young & Little Sadie, Lonesome River Band, Mountain Heart, The Grascals, Uncle Earl, and the Bluegrass Gospel Project. Grey Fox will also once again have its dance pavilion in action featuring a variety of dance-oriented performing artists. This year’s performers include Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, Creole Cowboys, Magnolia, John Kirk & Trish Miller, and Fiddlestyx. Grey Fox offers on-site camping and venders aplenty. Call 1-888-946-8495 or check the web site at www.greyfoxbluegrass for further information.