Wednesday, December 28, 2005

CD Review: Bluegrass Hits - Twenty Timeless Favorites from Yesterday and Today

What constitutes a bluegrass “hit” anyway? This 20-track compilation’s liner notes give a pretty good explanation. Bluegrass Hits is made up of songs that made Bluegrass Unlimited magazine’s National Bluegrass Survey, which is a nationwide poll that pulls from radio stations that include bluegrass records as part of their regular rotation and various regional and local bluegrass radio programs.

The album’s subtitle, Twenty Timeless Favorites from Yesterday and Today, may make you think that you’re about to embark upon a what’s-what of bluegrass history. But, the oldest song in this collection was released in 1988 with the remainder leading up to 2005. So I guess “yesterday” is relative.   Maybe they should have called it Twenty Timeless Favorites from the 80’s, 90’s and Today. Now, that’s catchy!

Another beef I have with the title is that it doesn’t exactly come clean about its contents. Every song on this collection is from a Rounder release, or, in the case of Weary Hearts’ “I Know the Way to You by Heart,” Flying Fish Records, which is a subsidiary of Rounder.

The packaging is nice, and I like the retro cover photo. Imagine one of those old Herb Alpert or Martin Denny albums from the ‘60s with a sexy woman on the cover. Got it? Now imagine that woman sitting provocatively on a blanket in a field next to what looks like one of those army-green record players from junior high music class. Spread across the blanket are LPs of some of the artists featured on this collection.  It’s completely cheesy and equally clever.

In addition to a nice overview of the genre, the liner notes contain mini-bios of each artist, which is nice. It would have been even nicer if the date each song was originally released was included along with the highest chart position each track achieved.

Regardless of the somewhat misleading title, it’s a solid compilation. It contains many of the biggest contemporary bluegrass artists out there, including Alison Krauss and Union Station, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Rhonda Vincent (she’s the best!), Tony Rice and J.D. Crowe and the New South.

Stand-outs from the album include Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver’s “Heartbreak Number Nine,” Longview’s “High Lonesome,” Stuart Duncan’s “Lonely Moon,” and “Everybody’s Reaching Out For Someone” by The Cox Family.

There’s not much more to say about the music except that it’s a legitimate collection with a lot of strong cuts. If you like contemporary bluegrass, are partial to Rounder artists and you don’t already have all this stuff, Bluegrass Hits is a good buy.