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American Roots - "The Essential Album" Manteco MANTDCD210

Well this is hotch-potch - a 'rum do' as my grandad would have said, but as a double CD, priced presumably at budget/mid-price, it's rarely less than fascinating. 'Americana' (a rather good catch-all actually) has never been more in vogue than over the past year or so since the out-of-left-field success of the Coen Brothers 'Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" and you'll find tracks that feature in that film here - The Carter Family's radio signature "Keep On The Sunny Side" and Harry McClintock's "Big Rock Candy Mountain" (the clean version) to name but two and the 100 minutes of playing time are an excellent introduction to a world of early country, bluegrass, blues, folk and erm, the Charlie Daniels Band!

That said, the material available to the compiler Nic Moran must have been dictated by out of copyright considerations and anything Union Square Music could gets its hands on from various labels, so that anything purporting to be definitive would hardly have Hank Williams Jnr yet no Hank Williams, Skip James and an absence of Robert Johnson. We get two cuts from the undeniably great Mississippi John Hurt but naught from the definitive early Delta bluesmen Charley Patton or Son House. No Western Swing huh? No worksongs/field hollers but hello here's Bob Dylan! You get the picture?

With succinct notes by the estimable John Crosby, as a primer it's fine and will hopefully prompt deeper delvings and there are some gems here - The Louvin Brothers' seamless "If I Could Only Win Your Love" from 1959 for instance; and the world would be a poorer place without Woody's "This Land Is Your Land" - in fact the latter typifies the character of many of the items contained - the material may in some cases go back over 70 years, but the issues haven't dated and neither have the tunes & songs. As hotch-potches go, this is a worthy starter-kit.

Clive Pownceby

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This album was reviewed in Issue 50 of The Living Tradition magazine.