on June 16, 2004
RED ALLEN - Keep on Going: The Rebel & Melodeon Recordings
Playing Time - 60:28
RED ALLEN - Lonesome and Blue: The Complete County Recordings
Playing Time - 70:11
Originally from Pigeon Roost, Kentucky, Harley "Red" Allen lived in Dayton, Ohio for most of his career. He formed his first band "The Kentuckians" in the early 1950s, and he is one of the pioneers of bluegrass. His singing in trios with The Osborne Brothers were enough to knock your socks off. They won a contract with MGM Records and appeared on the WWVA Jamboree from Wheeling, W.V. in the mid-50s. Differences of opinion over a progressive vs. traditional approach to their music probably led to them parting ways in 1958. Red Allen was a staunch traditionalist up until he started picking songs like "Proud Mary" later in life with his sons.
These two releases are monumental reissues. CD-1127 includes 23 tracks, five of which are previously unreleased cuts. After moving to Washington, D.C., in 1959, Red formed The Kentuckians with Frank Wakefield. Six cuts capture the creative relationship that they enjoyed before they went their separate ways in 1964. The Kentuckians' "solid bluegrass sound" was then built around good song selection, exceptional instrumental work, and excellent harmony. The previously unreleased cuts include three with Frank Wakefield (Don't Lie to Me, Lonesome Weary Heart, I Don't Believe You'd Do Me Wrong), and two with The Kentuckians (If That's the Way You Feel, Purple Heart). Red Allen and Frank Wakefield's renditions of "Little Birdie" and "Sad and Lonesome Day" are truly classics. Of special merit are those songs that are still standard bluegrass repertoire today like Close By, Out on the Ocean, Hello City Limits, Down Where the River Bends, and The Family Who Prays. Two different versions of "Froggy Went A Courtin'," the old folk tune done bluegrass style are offered.
CD-1128 has 25 tracks and includes two entire albums from the County label recorded in 1965 and 1966. When originally released, County-704 and County-710 met with mixed reviews. In the first issue of Bluegrass Unlimited, Richard Spottwood wrote that the first album was "grass of the high quality we've come to expect from this group, although a fairly large proportion of the songs are derived from other records by Flatt & Scruggs, Johnnie & Jack, etc. The recording suffers from over-brilliance, but this will not disturb most." Joining Allen were Bill Yates, Wayne Yates, Porter Church and Richard Greene. The Louvin Bros.' song, "Seven Year Blues" is previously unreleased.
Regarding County-710, Spottswood said "Neither Red nor his fellow pickers are inspired here, with the exception of dobroist Wingfield. If the rest of the picking had been up to his level, this album would've been truly exceptional. It's a good set, though, and if you have Red's other albums you'll enjoy this one too." I offer these comments only to show how time and history can alter our perceptions. Nowadays, we often prefer traditional covers performed with crisp, clean brilliance. And besides Red, the players that were being criticized for less-than-inspired playing include David Grisman, Porter Church, and Jerry McCoury. I found these players to be right on the money with these great old songs. One can hardly go wrong with classics like We Live in Two Different Worlds, Are You Waiting Just For Me?, My Baby's Gone, Love Gone Cold, and Whose Shoulder Will You Cry On? The Roy Acuff number "Branded Wherever I Go" is previously unreleased.
In 1967, Allen moved to Nashville to temporarily replace an ill Lester Flatt in Flatt & Scruggs. In the late 1960s, Red Allen worked with J.D. Crowe and Doyle Lawson in the Kentucky Mountain Boys. With his sons Harley, Greg and Neal, Red performed together as "The Allen Brothers" in the early seventies. Neal died from pneumonia in 1974, while Harley is singer/songwriter in Nashville. In 1976, Red Allen retired from music due in part to health problems (open-heart surgery). In 1984, he formed "The New Kentuckians." In 1992, he recorded an album with David Grisman, Herb Pederson and Jerry Garcia which was nominated for a Grammy Award. On April 3, 1993, Red passed away from lung cancer.
Red Allen's classic work on the Melodeon, Rebel and County labels are part of the very foundation of traditional bluegrass. These reissues should be an integral part of everyone's collection to highlight and document some key milestones in the remarkably talented guitarist and singer's long and successful bluegrass career. (Joe Ross, staff writer, Bluegrass Now)