While a four-volume series on Document presented the Dixon Brothers' complete work in chronological order, this four-CD box set goes yet better in its thoroughness. In addition to all the duo's commercially released 1936-1938 recordings, it has the sides Howard Dixon recorded with Frank Gerald; the ones Howard Dixon and Gerald cut with Mutt Evans, and the tracks (six previously unreleased) Dorsey Dixon did with his wife Beatrice. That takes up three of the four discs; the fourth CD is devoted to recordings Dorsey Dixon made as a solo artist in 1961 and 1962 during the folk revival, two-thirds of which were previously unissued. Adding up to 121 selections in all, it demonstrates the brothers' wide range (whether working together or in a different context) of repertoire, encompassing socially conscious songs about taxes and working conditions in textile mills; Appalachian country-folk arrangements of Tin Pan Alley tunes; country gospel, and other songs of romance and tragedy. As close-harmony pre-World War II country brother duos go, the Dixon Brothers may not be as accessible as some, like the Delmore Brothers and the Blue Sky Boys, as the vocals were less sweet and more wizened. It's a lot of homily-laden, often moralistic material to take in at once, and as even the liner notes admit, on the somewhat informal Dorsey Dixon early-'60s recordings (done shortly after Howard Dixon's death), "many of the songs he recorded varied little in key or tempo." Yet as a definitive consolidation of the Dixon Brothers' work, it's hard to imagine how this could be bettered, unless the four lost masters from a September 25, 1938 session (three by Howard Dixon and Frank Gerald, and one by the pair with Mutt Evans) can be found.
The 164-page, LP-sized hardback book accompanying the CDs is, like those found in numerous other Bear Family box sets, a work in itself. In addition to extensive biographical essays and song-by-song annotation from Patrick Huber, it's abundantly illustrated with photos of the brothers and scenes from the kind of child-labor-exploitation mills in which they worked; vintage advertisements for their records and gigs; paperwork documenting their recording sessions, and sheet music covers for some of the songs they waxed. There are also both of the multi-page memoirs Dorsey Dixon wrote; handwritten lyrics from his notebooks; a meticulous discography, and even a reprint of a Dorsey Dixon poem about the Newport Folk Festival that appeared in Sing Out! magazine. Though it might miff those who bought the Document series to purchase that material (with some extras) again in this format, by definition anyone who wants the complete Dixon Brothers must be a serious fan, and that book might just be worth the price on its own even if you already have many of their recordings.