This four-disc box set from JSP Records collects tracks from the earliest years of bluegrass music, and in a rather curious sequencing decision, runs them backwards from the first disc, which includes the latest selections from the 1950s, to the fourth, which is made up of what are essentially high-octane string band tracks from the early '30s. Arranged this way, it neither functions effectively as a history or as an overview of early bluegrass, but that may well be secondary, since it does put about 90 hard to find 78s in one place, which no doubt will be its main attraction to bluegrass scholars and collectors. It is particularly interesting to hear the selections from Byron Parker & His Mountaineers
, which all feature DeWitt "Snuffy" Jenkins on five-string banjo. Jenkins' three-finger picking style clearly prefigures the later work of banjo great Earl Scruggs
, whose lightning three-finger runs have become the standard -- if not the very backbone -- of modern bluegrass. Also of interest here is the first version of "Orange Blossom Special," recorded by the Rouse Brothers
in New York City in 1939. The song was actually written by the fiddler Ervin Rouse
, and this simple early rendition is quite striking, particularly when you stop and ponder how many thousands of times the song has been recorded and performed since. Serious fans of bluegrass will find this box set useful and instructive, but casual listeners will no doubt find it to be about three discs too long.