The Essential Earl Scruggs
Classic Bluegrass Live 1958–1966
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2004, Volume 11, #6
Written by John Metzger
Bill Monroe may have been the father of bluegrass, but it was Earl Scruggs who, with the help of guitarist Lester Flatt, popularized the genre and brought it into mainstream prominence. As a result, it’s not surprising that the bulk of the recently released, two-disc collection The Essential Earl Scruggs is culled from the duo’s catalog, offering selections that were recorded between 1949 and 1969. Even so, the set is a rather comprehensive overview of Scruggs’ career. It begins prior to the days of Flatt & Scruggs with a trio of late ’40s tunes from Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys, and it concludes with a pair of solo outings made in the ’80s with his son. In between, there are countless classic showstoppers, ranging from Scruggs’ own Foggy Mountain Breakdown to unique interpretations of songs by Bob Dylan (Nashville Skyline Rag and I Shall Be Released), Michael Nesmith (Some of Shelley’s Blues), Hank Williams (I Saw the Light), and A.P. Carter (John Hardy Was a Desperate Man, Foggy Mountain Top, and Jimmie Brown, The Newsboy). Through it all, Scruggs demonstrates why he’s considered the finest banjo picker of any era, adding his fluidly fiery leads in ways that make the instrument seem far easier to play than it is. While serious bluegrass afficionados are likely to have much of this material in their collections, newcomers and passive listeners will find The Essential Earl Scruggs to be a vital slice of history.
Also of note is the two-year old compilation Classic Bluegrass Live 1958–1966, which combines a pair of previously unreleased tracks with a plethora of already available material culled from three of Scruggs’ appearances — two with Lester Flatt and the Foggy Mountain Boys in 1960 and 1966, and one with Hylo Brown and the Timberliners in 1959 — at the venerable Newport Folk Festival. All of it is quite good, of course, and surprisingly, there isn’t a lot of overlap between the albums. In fact, only two of the set’s 18 songs (John Hardy and Cumberland Gap) are true duplicates, though five additional tracks (Earl’s Breakdown; Salty Dog Blues; Jimmy Brown, The Newsboy; Foggy Mountain Chimes; and Ballad of Jed Clampett) are offered in somewhat different arrangements. Still, this collection is either a perfect complement to The Essential Earl Scruggs or a more concise portrait of a bluegrass legend.
The Essential Earl Scruggs —
Classic Bluegrass Live 1958–1966 —
The Essential Earl Scruggs is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Classic Bluegrass Live 1958–1966 is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box