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Our critics' picks in new releases


The English Rough Guide series has grown into quite a franchise, starting with travel books. Then came TV shows and encyclopedic tomes about the world's music, which led naturally to compilation CDs. Now with nearly 60 mostly excellent records in print, the recent releases have increasingly focused on a specific genre, such as klezmer, reggae and bluegrass.

Thanks to compiler Dan Rosenberg, there's not a single weak track among the 21, although most of the material is from the past 20 years. Rosenberg mixes traditional and contemporary styles, including six songs by women, who broke through the once formidable bluegrass glass ceiling during the 1990s. The Rough Guide to Bluegrass presents major stars such as Alison Krauss & Union Station, Tony Rice, IIIrd Tyme Out and Dr. Ralph Stanley. But the real surprises come from the Dry Branch Fire Squad, Red Allen, and Emerson & Waldron (who provided a crucial bridge between traditional and modern bluegrass 30 years ago).

While the music here delights song after song, the main problem with The Rough Guide to Bluegrass is what was not included. For one thing, 16 of the selections come from just one label, Rounder. For another, not a single track predates the 1960s, thus skipping the genre's golden years. These factors explain why you won't find--among others--Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, New Grass Revival, Flatt & Scruggs, Hot Rize, and the Osborne Brothers. Similarly, the liner notes prove uninformed, missing bluegrass music's remarkable fusion of folk and commercial elements by providing artist profiles that read like record company one sheets, even listing an incorrect title for the Del & Jerry McCoury contribution, then including a photo of the McCoury Brothers--Ronnie & Robbie. In other words, The Rough Guide to Bluegrass demonstrates that while the series continues to offer thoroughly lovely discs that both devotees and neophytes can enjoy, in other respects it shows the signs of the series' rapid growth.

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