CD re-issue: "Basic Library"

The current issue of Stereophile mag has an article devoted to the resurgence of bluegrass music, and offers some suggestions for some "basic library" recordings of bluegrass. (Editorial comment: the article leaves a LOT to be desired as an introduction to bluegrass recordings, as anyone who knows the music at all will quickly realize.)

One of the recordings recommended in the article is the 24-bit remastered CD of the 1971 3-LP set "Will The Circle Be Unbroken", re-issued earlier this year. The album was ostensibly by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, but it featured a number of the finest bluegrass / country singers and musicians, including Maybelle Carter (Johnny Cash's mother-in-law), Earl Scruggs (of Flatt & Scruggs fame), Doc Watson, Roy Acuff, Merle Travis, and a number of outstanding bluegrass musicians.

I wore out the LP version of this album that I bought in the early 1970's, and was really pleased to learn that Capitol Records has re-issued the recording in a 24-bit digital remastering. There are a number of features to this recording, other than the stellar musicians, that made it a virtual landmark recording:
1. it was tape recorded at 30 ips, with no compression, limiting, or other processing, so the audio quality is outstanding;
2. the tape was kept running during the recording, and much of the musicians' banter between numbers was preserved;
3. the recording was done over a 6-day period, so the musicians really had time to relax and work together, and it shows in the playing.

From an audiophile's perspective, as well as a bluegrass lover's, this is a terrific recording. The best recordings eiter bring the performers into your room (usually close-miked versions with almost no room ambience), or
succeed in taking you into the room with the musicians. "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" is the latter type of recording, and it definitely succeeds in making you think you are in the studio and part of the proceedings. The sound quality of this recording is wonderful: real voices and instruments in a real space. The notes from the CD booklet include the following remark by the members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band:
"We recorded for 6 days, and on the 7th day ... we played back. Thirty years later, listening to the remastered original two-track analog tapes, we are reminded how magical that time as for all of us. "The Circle" stands as a record of an event of unusual proportions, a presentation of music that DID change the world, created by players from simple backgrounds whose purpose was just to play music for the sake of music. We thank them all..."

The 2-Cd reissue (Capitol 7243-5-35148-2-2) costs about $25 (maybe a bit less if you order it online from Tower), and worth every penny. If you liked the movie soundtrack from "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", or the CD "Down From The Mountain", or are entranced by Allison Kraus and Union Station, then you owe it to yourself to listen to the "real stuff" by the masters of the genre. This CD reissue gets "2 thumbs up" from me!

(As a closing comment, I submitted a review several months ago about a bluegrass recording by Tony Williamson & The Williamson Brothers Band, titled "Still Light of the Evening" (on the Mapleshade/Wildchild label). I thought then, and still think, that the album one of the finest bluegrass recordings I have hard in many years, and a much better addition to a "basic library" than many of the recordings recommended in the Stereophile article. For more info about "Still Light", see the review I submitted.)
Thanks for your comments, Mr. Campbell. I had been wondering if the new re-issue was worth acquiring.

Have you compared it to the previous cd release?
Fortunately for me, when I married my wife, she came along with some very good additions to my rather large LP collection - one of which was as sealed copy of "Circle". Like Scott, I had nearly worn out my copy and now that I am back in to analogue in a quality way, this LP now gets its just due. Highly recommended. Good to hear that the re-issue on CD is of high quality.

Scott, was mention made in the article of the Bela Fleck "Blue Grass Sessions" that were produced awhile back. I find these tracks to be very tasty and likely very "accessible" as an introduction to Blue Grass. Curiously, National Gepgraphic compilated and put out an LP quite some time ago that is sonically brilliant and contains some very authentic "Ozark" music - both lyrical and instrumental (haunting dulicmers!)
In response to the 2 questions above:
1. I have not heard the previous CD release of "Circle", so I have no basis for comparing it with the new 24-bit remastered version. I had the original LP set, but sold it in the late 1980's because it had gotten badly scratched by someone that borrowed the set from me (no, they never got their hands on any of my LP's again).
2. The article in Stereopiles mentioned some of the recent bluegrass CD's by Dolly Parton ("The Grass is Blue" and "Little Sparrow" are both excellent), Alison Krauss, Patty Loveless, Hazel Dickens, and Ralph Stanley (and the Clinch Mountain Boys). Most of the other CD's that are mentioned are multi-artist compilation albums of varying quality. Bela Fleck is mentioned in passing, as is Dan Kaminski (who is a member of Alison Krauss's band, Union Station, and who was also the actual singer that was lip-synched by George Clooney in the movie "O Brother").
Another Nitty Gritty album is "Dirt Silver and Gold". In 1977 I picked the album up in Europe. It's been played sparingly just because I feared wearing it out. Whenever it was played the tape deck was in record.
I happen to like this album better than the "Will the Circle be Unbroken" album.