Jack Tuttle
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Recommended Bluegrass Albums

These are band oriented CDs. For instrument specific recommendations go here.

The three most influential 1st generation bands:

Bill Monroe: As the "Father of Bluegrass" any Bill Monroe recordings are worth hearing. A 2 CD set called Bill Monroe Anthology ($22.50) on MCA that includes some of his best material from his entire career. Also recommended is 16 Gems on Columbia, which includes the first true bluegrass with Flatt & Scruggs in the band. For those who want a large dose of Bill Monroe, the Bear Family label has everything you could want, check them out at County Sales.

Stanley Brothers: The two disc CD set on Bear Family called The Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys 1953-58 & 1959, is my favorite set. Most any Stanley Brothers recording will be good though, with lots of lonesome "mountain-style" singing.

Flatt & Scruggs: The Complete Mercury Sessions is a must have, as well as Foggy Mountain Banjo, the very influential banjo album. An interesting album is Live At Carnegie Hall on Koch. The more expensive ($65) Bear Family 4 CD set Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs 1948-1959 is highly recommended for those wanting all of the best of their prime years. It includes all of the Mercury Sessions CD, a book with tons of info, but doesn't include the banjo album. Stay away from any of their recordings made after the mid-60's.

Other popular bands from the 1950's:

Reno & Smiley: The 4 CD set on King called Reno & Smiley and the Tennessee Cut-ups, 1951 - 1959 ($45) and it includes much of their best material and a very informative book. When you factor in all around skills, Don Reno must be considered one of the greatest musicians bluegrass has ever seen; he wrote over 500 songs, was a huge innovator on the banjo, a flatpicker on the guitar and a great tenor singer. The vocal blend between him and Red Smiley is very compelling.

Jimmy Martin: A great vocal talent who passed away in 2005, Jimmy comes from the country end of the bluegrass vocal spectrum, but with so much emotional grit, he can grab you like no other. You Don't Know My Mind, 1956-66 or The King Of Bluegrass are two of his best compilations from his best years. If you really get into Jimmy, you'll need his 5 CD Bear Family collection, Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys ($100), that spans about twenty years including all his earliest years.

Jim & Jesse: This brothers duet had very smooth, refined harmonies but not as gritty as some. Jesse's mandolin playing features lots of cross-picking breaks and they always carried top-flight banjo players. There is a very nice 4 CD box ($45) set called The Old Dominion Masters that has their recordings from the 60's and 70's. One of my favorite of their newer CDs is In The Tradition on Rounder.

Osborne Brothers: From the Country side of bluegrass, this band is famous for Bobby Osborne's high lead voice with the harmonies stacked underneath. The material tends to be on the "hokey" side. Try Once More Vol 1 & 2, a fairly recent re-recording of many of their classics.

Post 1960's bluegrass in no particular order

Bluegrass Album Band: These albums are, to my knowledge, the first all-star band (led by Tony Rice) recordings of traditional bluegrass and it created quite a stir when the first vinyl came out in 1981. All of their albums are very good and I use them to demonstrate how a bluegrass ensemble should sound. I'd go for the 1st two compilation CDs The Bluegrass Album Compact Disc (Rounder 11502) and Volume 2 of the same. (Rounder 11516)

Ralph Stanley: Ralph has continued on to this day without his brother Carter, who passed away in 1966. His album Cry From The Cross is a classic and his Clinch Mountain Country features many guest stars from the bluegrass and country fields and exemplary fiddling from James Price. (Rebel)

Hazel Dickens: The first great female bluegrass singer, with a hard-edged old-school voice that blends old country and mountain singing. A Few Old Memories on Rounder is a good starting place.

Dan Paisley and the Southern Grass: One of the most powerful bands in all of bluegrass, this band seems to have a small but loyal following like no other. Considered by many bluegrass insiders to be the best ultra-traditional band going, this band plays music like a freight train going down the tracks. Formerly under the name Bob Paisley, but since Bob passed away in 2005, the band continues with his son Dan at the helm and amazingly they are just as good as ever. Steeped in the Tradition or Back to the Blue Ridge are my choices, but any of their recordings will do.

Country Gentlemen: The first progressive "Urban bluegrass" band from DC features occasional repertoire from outside the Bluegrass world. A live recording on Smithsonian Folkways called On The Move is a good display of the classic early 1960's sound and humor.

Seldom Scene: This band is noted for the same progressive approach as the Country Gentlemen, but even more modern. Live At The Cellar Door on Rebel is a good intro to their sound.

Del McCoury: A great family band, Del has two sons in the band and they are one of the hottest acts going today. Straight bluegrass with a few different twists. High singing and burning instrumental breaks are served up on the last several albums. Try The Family. (Ceili Music)

Rice & Skaggs: This duet album isn't really a bluegrass album, but a throwback to the brothers duet sound common in the 1930's and 40's. Excellent harmony singing and tasteful, understated guitar and mandolin. (Rounder)

Longview: This all-star band features the greatest singers and players in the business. About as close to perfection as traditional bluegrass has gotten, this band is most noted for the ethereal vocals of four great singers. Try either of their first two albums on Rounder, one simply titled Longview and the other, High Lonesome.

Ricky Skaggs: As with Longview, this is virtually perfect bluegrass, both vocally (Ricky Skaggs is as good as they get) and instrumentally. Incredible guitar solos by Bryan Sutton, some Stuart Duncan fiddling (in addition to Bobby Hicks) and Jim Mills on banjo. Bluegrass Rules (Rounder) and Ancient Tones (SKFR- 1001)

Kathy Kallick and Laurie Lewis: There's a shortage of great female bluegrass singers, but the Bay Area certainly has two of the best. They team up here with some of the best duet singing you'll ever hear on Together. (Kaleidoscope) Check out their solo albums too.

Lynn Morris: Another strong female bluegrass singer originally from Texas, with a very clear voice and a strong band. My favorite album is The Bramble and the Rose (Rounder).

True Life Blues: This is an all-star cast that pays tribute to the songs of Bill Monroe. Varying, but stellar musicians throughout the album. Very good album at every level. (Sugar Hill)

J.D.Crowe: His 1974 self-titled album on Rounder is a classic and featured one of the greatest bands of all time. Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs and Jerry Douglas were all just youngsters who have had a huge impact on the bluegrass world.

Hot Rize: This Colorado-based band of the 80's featured singing and songwriting of Tim O'Brien. Very tight band. Any of their albums are good but I'd put Traditional Ties and Radio Boogie at the top.

Johnson Mountain Boys: One of the best hard-driving ultra-traditional bands of all time. Very consistent albums. Live at the Old School House and Blue Diamond are my picks. (Rounder)

Rhonda Vincent: One of the most successful acts in bluegrass today, Rhonda has a powerhouse band and the ability to play hard-driving bluegrass as well as her more Country-influenced torch songs. Her bands have only gotten better over time, so try her latest offerings, like Ragin' Live or The Storm Still Rages.

Tony Rice: Probably the most influential guitarist ever, and a good singer too. I'd recommend his self-titled Tony Rice as well as the somewhat more progressive Manzanita. (Rounder)

David Grisman: Known for his pioneering "Dawg music" this mandolinist put out a double CD of traditional bluegrass called Home Is Where The Heart Is with many great singers and players. (Rounder)

Vern Williams: California's claim to raw-edged traditional bluegrass, Vern is a litmus test for how serious you are about the high-powered, unrefined end of the bluegrass spectrum. Bluegrass From The Gold Country is his only studio album, but it's not for the faint of heart. Traditional Bluegrass (Arhoolie) is a fabulous collection of Vern Williams Band live recordings from the early '80s.

Nashville Bluegrass Band: Two of the best singers in bluegrass (Alan O'Bryant and Pat Enright) along with the best fiddler of all (Stuart Duncan). My favorite album is The Boys Are Back In Town. (Sugar Hill)

Lonesome River Band: This influential band is on the modern side of bluegrass with an incredibly tight sound and top-level musicianship. Some of their material borders on sappy country, but their straight bluegrass is very dynamic, with well thought out arrangements. Try Carrying The Tradition (Rebel) and One Step Forward. ( Sugar Hill)

Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver: Later years have seen a focus on elaborate 4-part gospel vocals and if you want to hear the state-of-the-art, get Gospel Radio Gems on Sugar Hill.

Alison Krauss: Too much toward the "pop" side for my tastes, nonetheless Krauss is the best selling bluegrass artist of the last 15 years. I actually like her album Every Time You Say Goodbye on Rounder.

1946: Named in honor of the year bluegrass as we now know it was first recorded, this band has two self-released CDs - one simply called 1946, and Howling Wind Blues. David Peterson vocally fronts this powerful band, and as you might imagine from their name, it's rooted in the traditional side of bluegrass. But they have fresh creative approaches to old songs and a few new songs that sound like old songs, great singing and really great, tasteful soloing.

Updated May 13, 2008