Blue Moon Of Kentucky 1936-1949
Import, Box Set
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6-CD LP-sixed box set with illustrated 88-page book. From 1936-1949, Bill Monroe made a series of recordings that laid the foundation for what is today called bluegrass. This collection brings together, for the first time, the complete works from that seminal era. It includes all 60 of the Monroe Bros. duets from 1936-38, all 16 of the 1940-41 performances that marked the very first appearance of Monroe's recordings under his own name, and all of the Columbia sessions from 1945-49, including the revolutionary sides with Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and Chubby Wise. An added bonus is the inclusion of every alternate take from the Columbia sessions, a total of 50 previously unheard and unreleased out-takes, including an un-numbered master of a gospel song that was not even known to exist.
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Recordings made in September of 1946 with Monroe, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Chubby Wise, and Howard Watts (Cedric Rainwater) are generally considered to be the first bluegrass recordings. If one agrees with this start date they'll find here 80 bluegrass versions of 32 different songs and instrumentals (the instrumentals being "Blue Grass Breakdown" and "Blue Grass Stomp").
This box set contains a 38 page, hard-bound booklet with about 50 photographs and several reproductions of record labels, album covers, and other artifacts. Text is by Charles K. Wolfe and there is a detailed discography by Neil V. Rosenberg. The booklet is really lovely but I am disappointed that black and white photographs are printed in brown hues (some browner than others). I find the text somewhat difficult to read in places due to fancy background design and inconsistent font sizes (font sizes are changed so that text can fit onto pages, which I find unacceptable). The text itself is extremely interesting and useful; many of the song histories are not available elsewhere.
In two instances song labeling is inconsistent. Alternate takes are usually labeled as such, but not always (the first appearance of "Blue Moon Of Kentucky" is an alternate take but isn't labeled as one). Instrumental tracks are usually labeled as such, but not always (the originally released version of "Blue Grass Stomp" is not labeled as an instrumental).
This box set contains an "un-numbered master of a gospel song that was not even known to exist," which is "I'll Have A New Life." This cut is less than 2 minutes long and appears on the 3rd CD, following "Footprints in the Snow" and prior to "Blue Grass Special" (it was recorded in February of 1945). There is a description in the booklet about why this recording was not previously known to exist. "I'll Have A New Life" was written by Luther G. Presley and was first published in 1940; many bluegrass fans are familiar with the song thanks to a version that Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver recorded in the early 1980s.
As far as I can tell, this box set contains the first CD reissue of the originally released version of "Little Cabin Home On The Hill" (the version that appears in a 2 CD Columbia/Legacy box set is an alternate take but is not listed as such in that box set).
Arguably the most important aspect of this box set is the sound quality and I'm thrilled to report that it is excellent, considering the available sources!
While this box set may be overkill for some listeners, many bluegrass fans will consider it essential. Personally, my Monroe collection wouldn't be complete without the 3 Bear Family box sets covering 1936 to 1949, 1950 to 1958, and 1959 to 1969; the 4 CD MCA set "The Music Of Bill Monroe From 1936 To 1994," the 2 live albums on Smithsonian Folkways, and the Kenny Baker album "Plays Bill Monroe" (which features Monroe on mandolin).
Selection is great with two discs of Monroe Brothers "Bluebird" releases from the 1930s, a disc or so of the middle period (between the Monroe Brothers and Flatt & Scruggs) that sees Monroe experimenting with sounds (including a junky accordian) and styles (he sure did love to sing Jimmy Rodgers songs).
His bluegrass sound was finally complete with the Columbia sessions recorded with the great Lester Flatt mainly on lead vocal and providing assistance in the song writing department. However, the genius was putting Scruggs unique banjo and Cedric Rainwater's bass out front in the mix for a great rythm effect. This was the birth of bluegrass! I also like the stuff recorded with Mac Wiseman after Flatt & Scruggs left, wish there was more.
That said... some of these songs were recently remastered by Sony (who owns the Columbia catalog) and released on a various artist box set last year. I hope that Sony finds a way to release a 3 disc set of these Monroe songs remastered and sounding as crisp as that boxset. Then I can own three different boxsets! Yippee I love spending money!!!!!