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VARIOUS ARTISTS "The Rough Guide to the Music of the Appalachians" World Music Network RGNET 1104 CD

The amazing thing about this album is that it is largely contemporary. I've been a proud owner of the Dock Boggs Folkways compilation for ages, then along comes "O Brother..." to stir up a lot of interest in the genre. But I still think of Appalachian music as a historic phenomenon. Or I did until I listened to this compilation, which comes courtesy of the highly respected Rough Guide series.

The songwriters, in my defence, have a tendency to stick to the usual subject matter. On this compilation you can hear Jesus come and hold my hand, while I walk this rocky road, I've been up and down so many times, who's counting and Oh the river of death lies just before me, can I find a place that I can cross. So don't expect too much in the way of innovation. But for close harmonies, and a sumptuous feast of fiddle, frailing banjos and the whine of steel guitars, this is the bees' knees.

Stand-out tracks: all of them, but a special mention for the Cox Family, with their delicious vocal harmonies on Another Lonesome Morning, Larry Sparks's plaintive vocal on The Old Church Yard, and just listen to the Bluegrass Album Band with River of Death, an old Bill Monroe number, with a tightness to their playing and their harmonies but no irony. There is a genius in the naiveté here. And the flying banjo picking on Hard Times by 16-year-old Jeremy Stephens is quite superb. Tom Adams's Box Elder Beetles takes a different, more thoughtful approach to the instrument. And the album closes with a more relaxed take again from Karl Shiflett & Big Country Show.

Old recordings are represented by Dock Boggs and Joe Thompson. An excellent compilation, well selected by Dan Rosenberg, who also put together the informative sleeve notes.

Graham Gurrin

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This album was reviewed in Issue 53 of The Living Tradition magazine.