The Lilly Brothers
& Don Stover,
On the Radio 1952-1953
(Rounder, 2002)

This CD is guaranteed to float the boat of any fan of traditional bluegrass. If you're one of those old codgers (and I'm not) who bewails how modern pickers have ruined the music, take a good dose of this and calm down. Here's bluegrass as it was played in the old days, simple and unadorned, but of the highest caliber. West Virginia natives Everett and Bea Lilly (not to be confused with Bea Lillie, who was another sort of vocalist entirely) skillfully blended the old-fashioned brother-act harmonies with then contemporary bluegrass, and the results are a delight, even 50 years later.

These 20 great tracks are taken from radio broadcasts, but the sound is excellent mono. The Lilly Brothers' marvelous vocal blend comes through beautifully, as does Don Stover's banjo work, which is heard to fine effect in "Here Rattler Here." Among the many highlights are a sizzling instrumental "Rawhide," a lovely "Girl in the Blue Velvet Band," and one of the most tear-jerking songs ever recorded, "Don't Make Me Go to Bed and I'll Be Good," which gives new meaning to the word "maudlin." (But what the hey, it works!)

This is bluegrass, but it's also heavily infused with old-time music, what R. Crumb called "the beautiful music of our grandparents." Though all the songs are done in bluegrass style, there are old Monroe Brothers songs like "What Is a Home Without Love," old country hits like Vernon Dalhart's "The Prisoner's Song," old-time instrumentals like "Cumberland Gap" and even "When the Saints Go Marching In." It's a wonderfully varied assortment of songs and instrumentals, and the chatty introductions add an even greater down-home feel.

The booklet has three essays on the music, as well as comments on each track by Everett Lilly's son and several photographs. All in all, it's a dandy package in Rounder's new Early Days of Bluegrass series, and if this is any indication of the quality, I hope we'll be seeing a lot more of these!

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 18 January 2003

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