various artists,
Bluegrass #1s: A Collection
of Chart-Topping Songs

(Rounder, 2004)

This album will be a hit regardless of any reviews. Take 18 top tracks by as many top acts in the genre and you cannot help but strike gold. This is value in spades as you get Alison Krauss, the Rice Brothers, Del McCrory and a host of others in a double album of pure bluegrass joy.

Opening with "Lonesome Wind Blues," it will not let you rest until Longview lets you know "I've Never Been So Lonesome." Own this album and you will never be lonesome. It will keep you company and if you invite friends over for a bluegrass evening you will have a full house.

The fresh sound and humorous lyrics of tracks like "We're Stepping Out Tonight" will have the rafters lifting as people sing along. If it's a more reflective and slow track you want, give a listen to my favourite -- of many -- sung by Laurie Lewis: "Who Will Watch the Home Place?" The very juxtaposition of such diverse tracks is part of the magic of this album.

One of the mysteries of bluegrass is the fact that some of the most heartbreaking sentiments can be expressed with a jaunty musical backing. This is very evident on "Thirty Years of Farming." If you were not paying close attention you might imagine it as a fun song. In fact, it refers to an auction as a family loses the farm. Lynn Morris with her band does a fantastic job on "The Bramble and the Rose."

The legendary Bill Munroe may not appear on this album but his spirit is here on a fantastic tribute from Rhonda Vincent. True to bluegrass spirit, this is not a sad or soulful tribute. It is upbeat, happy and asking him in the title how the kingdom come compares to Kentucky.

Another favourite of mine has to be the excellent "Bed by the Window," sung by James King. This is a story song of the highest order. "Mama's Hands" is a poignant tale of a girl leaving home that will melt the coldest heart.

This album is worth any price if you like bluegrass or any sort of music well performed. But wait -- as they say -- there's more. Yes, not content with giving you 18 top-class tracks, Rounder has added a bonus CD with eight more tracks.

Watch those fiddle bows on the opening of "Whistling Rufus." If you get too close, they could put your eye out! Then comes "Paper and Pen" by Alecia Nugent, a song that could carry an album by itself.

So often bonus CDs can be add-ons, but here you get a collection that could be released separately and give the label another hit.

By the way you also get a lovely booklet with background but not lyrics, sadly. But I forgive them that slight oversight because the music is so good. Well done, Rounder.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 11 December 2004