The Essential Earl Scruggs
For an artist with as long and storied a recording career as Earl Scruggs, a two-disc Essential set seems a bit slight. But, in fact, this collection is a tasty, 40-cut overview that captures the variety of this towering banjo man's contributions to contemporary country and popular music. Disc 1 breaks down into selections from the '40s and '50s, when Scruggs was pointing the way toward the future, first as a member of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys (a period represented here by three cuts from 1946-47), then in his scintillating partnership with guitarist/vocalist Lester Flatt and their band, the Foggy Mountain Boys. This latter incarnation is well documented, with monuments on the order of 1949's "Foggy Mountain Breakdown"; another awesome breakdown from 1959, "Pike Mountain Breakdown"; the irresistible "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms"; a touching rendition of A. P. Carter's "Jimmie Brown, The Newsboy"; and the incendiary instrumental blowout, 1950's "Shuckin' the Corn," on which Scruggs and his mates' speed-picking dexterity remains jaw dropping. Disc 2 surveys the '60s and '70s and features ample samplings of the groundbreaking work Scruggs did with his sons Randy and Gary in the Earl Scruggs Review, as well as choice pairings with artists such as Mother Maybelle Carter, on a mesmerizing version of A.P.'s "Foggy Mountain Top," and Ricky Skaggs, on a heartfelt reading of "We'll Meet Again," one of a handful of '80s tracks here. Yes, the studio version of "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" is included (it's slower than the TV theme song, for those to whom such distinctions matter), and Johnny Cash joins Earl, Randy, and Gary for a rustic take on his beautiful "I Still Miss Someone," from 1975. Music this deep and soulful never grows old.