Essential

The Essential

by Chet Atkins
     
 
A man of class and vision, Chet Atkins cut such a wide swath through country music history that a two-disc sampling of his work as a solo artist and accompanist tells but a bit of the whole story. A visionary producer and talent scout, he (along with Owen Bradley) built the modern Nashville recording industry in the '50s and re-energized country's flagging commercial

Overview

A man of class and vision, Chet Atkins cut such a wide swath through country music history that a two-disc sampling of his work as a solo artist and accompanist tells but a bit of the whole story. A visionary producer and talent scout, he (along with Owen Bradley) built the modern Nashville recording industry in the '50s and re-energized country's flagging commercial appeal by adding strings and vocal choruses and ejecting the fiddle and pedal steel. He influenced several generations of country, rock, and jazz guitarists and championed music without borders, as evidenced here by his impeccably realized eclectic guitar stylings for artists ranging from Mother Maybelle Carter and her daughters to the Everly Brothers to Lenny Breau to Mark Knopfler. The first of these two discs surveys Atkins's output from 1946 through 1959, starting with his first recording, "Guitar Blues (Pickin' the Blues)" for the Bullet label; Disc 2 begins in '59 and wends its way through the decades, concluding with a cut from the Almost Alone solo sessions in 1995. It's an amazing journey in six-string discourse, with Atkins proudly and liberally quoting influences from Merle Travis to Django Reinhardt at every turn and engaging in playful sonic experiments (such as 1956's "Trambone" and 1959's "Boo Boo Stick Beat") that are both clever and accessible. The playing is precise and clean but never lacking in soul or wit, and at times the shifting textures within a song are startling (check out the fanciful take on "Listen to the Mocking Bird," tellingly retitled "Hot Mocking Bird"). Two especially precious moments: Atkins's driving guitar behind Don Gibson on "Oh Lonesome Me," one of country's great recordings; and a genial vocal and instrumental dialogue with Merle Travis on Shel Silverstein's "Is Anything Better than This." Well, no.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Richie Unterberger
Chet Atkins is more esteemed as a session musician and producer than as a solo artist, and critics have rightly noted that much of his immense catalog as a solo artist is unimpressive. It might thus be assumed that it would be difficult to pick a two-CD, 40-track career-spanning retrospective that would both represent much of his finest solo output and appeal to the general listener, not just the country music scholar. Happily, this set manages the difficult feat of doing exactly that, owing to intelligent selection of a wide cross-section of tracks, going all the way back to a 1946 single by Chester Atkins & the All-Star Hillbillies and all the way up to a 1995 recording (though most of the set predates 1970). Atkins' virtuosity as a guitarist has never been in question, but here it's allied with good material and taste, showing him as a fine blender of hillbilly, boogie, and jazz styles in a variety of contexts. It's mostly instrumental, of course, but wisely his talents as a sideman are showcased here and there too on vocal sides by the Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle, Eddy Arnold, the Everly Brothers, and Don Gibson. Even the pop standards are good when chosen this judiciously, and there are some surprisingly bold moves into more electric and rock-influenced territory on cuts like "Slinkey" (with its innovative tremolo), "Boo Boo Stick Beat," the Shadows cover "Man of Mystery," and "Teen Scene" (which he co-wrote with Jerry Reed). It might not be the ultimate Atkins compilation, given the sheer quantity of material the guitarist recorded. But it's a good -- and, more crucially, very listenable -- starting point for surveying his work as a solo artist.

Product Details

Release Date:
07/24/2007
Label:
Rca
UPC:
0886970767729
catalogNumber:
707677
Rank:
40195

Tracks

Disc 1

  1. Guitar Blues (Pickin' the Blues)
  2. Bug Dance
  3. Dizzy Strings
  4. Centipede Boogie
  5. Mainstreet Breakdown
  6. Root, Hog or Die
  7. Jitterbug Waltz
  8. The Third Man Theme
  9. Black Mountain Rag
  10. Country Gentleman
  11. City Slicker
  12. Mister Sandman
  13. The Poor People of Paris (Jean's Song)
  14. Big D
  15. Trambone
  16. Should We Tell Him
  17. Hidden Charm
  18. Oh Lonesome Me
  19. I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles
  20. Slinkey

Disc 2

  1. Boo Boo Stick Beat
  2. Hot Mocking Bird
  3. The Slop
  4. Man of Mystery
  5. Wheels
  6. Teen Scene
  7. Freight Train
  8. Satan's Doll
  9. Yakety Axe
  10. A Taste of Honey
  11. Drive In
  12. Get on with It
  13. Cannonball Rag
  14. Take Five
  15. Is Anything Better Than This
  16. It's Been a Long, Long Time
  17. Polka Dots and Moonbeams
  18. Poor Boy Blues
  19. Sneakin' Around
  20. Big Foot

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Chet Atkins   Primary Artist

Technical Credits

Chet Atkins   Producer,Audio Production
Lenny Breau   Producer,Audio Production
Anita Kerr   Producer,Audio Production
Chester B. Atkins   Producer,Audio Production
Archie Bleyer   Producer,Audio Production
Daryl Dybka   Producer
Bob Ferguson   Producer,Audio Production
Charles Randolph Grean   Producer,Audio Production
Mark Knopfler   Producer,Audio Production
Rich Kienzle   Liner Notes
Stephen H. Sholes   Producer,Audio Production
Bob Irwin   Producer
R.L. Kass   Composer
Tim Morse   Art Direction
Jim Bullet   Audio Production

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