The Very Best Country-music Albums

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(Note: Recordings marked by an asterisk are available directly through American Heritage’s “Editors’ Choice” department. See page 122 for details.)

•JIMMIE RODGERS—

Eight chronological CDs on the Rounder label, from First Sessions, 1927-1928 (Rounder CD 1056)• and The Early Years (Rounder CD 1057)• through Last Sessions , 1933 (Rounder CD 1063).

•THE CARTER FAMILY—

Rounder Records has a nine-CD series in progress; two are out so far: Anchored in Love , 1927-28 (1064) and My Clinch Mountain Home, 1928-29 (1065).

•BOB ‘WILLS—

The Tiffany Transcriptions , recorded in 1946-47, available on nine Rhino CDs (R2-71469 through R2-71477). A great career summary is Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys Anthology (two CDs, Rhino R2-70744).•

•BILL MONROE—

If I had to choose one collection of the music of the King of Bluegrass, it would probably be the two-CD set The Essential Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys (Columbia/Legacy C2K-52478).• MCA’s brand-new box, The Music of Bill Monroe (four CDs, MCAD4-11048),• is bigger and more luxe, but Columbia’s captures the Blue Grass Boys at their late-forties peak, when Monroe, Scruggs, Flatt & Co. forged the sound of bluegrass. It’s tough to resist adding two more Monroes: Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys: Live Recordings, 1956-1969 (Smithsonian/Folkways CD 40063) and Bill Monroe and Doc Watson: Live Duet Recordings, 1963-1980 (Smithsonian/Folkways CD 40064); both contain almost unbelievably fine live music and superb annotation. To my ears, Bill and Charlie’s music, along with Jimmie Rodgers’s, represents the peak of early country.

•HANK WILLIAMS—

The Original Singles Collection (three CDs, Mercury 847194-2)•: wine, wimmen, ’n’ weepin’. Music don’t cut any closer to the bone.

•GEORGE JONES—

All Time Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (Epic CD EK-34692)• and Anniversary: Ten Years of Hits (Columbia CD EGK-38323) are two good collections covering the sixties and seventies. The LP The Best of Sacred Music , on the Musicor label, is wonderful earlyish Jones, but good luck finding it.

•PATSY CLINE—

The Patsy Cline Collection (four CDs, MCA MCAD-10421): champagne and corn.

•RAY CHARLES—

Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (Rhino CD R2-70099): a reissue of the first of Brother Ray’s two great early-sixties country LPs.

•MERLE HAGGARD—

For early Merle try Songs I’ll Always Sing , on two Capitol LPs (you’ll have to hunt for this one) and More of the Best on Rhino (CD R2-70917)•; there’s some overlap between the two. For the later Haggard, 1982’s Big City (Epic CD EK-37593) is the prize.

•WILLIE NELSON—

Stardust (Columbia CD CK-35305). Join the millions, if you haven’t already. For the early years, start with Nite Life (Early Hits & Rare Tracks) (Rhino CD R2-70987).

•WAYLON JENNINGS—

Dreaming My Dreams , an out-of-print, 1975 RCA LP, and Honky Tonk Heroes , a 1973 LP now on an RCA CD (07863-50240-2). Also, Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line , a two-CD compilation (RCA Nashville 66299-2) that inexplicably omits some of the best songs.

•JOHNNY CASH—

The Essential Johnny Cash (1955-1983) (three CDs, Columbia C3K-47991).

•GRAM PARSONS—

GP/Grievous Angel , two albums from 1973 and 1974 now sold as one CD (Reprise 26108-2).

•EMMYLOU HARRIS—

Luxury Liner , from 1977 (Warner Bros. CD 3115-2), and Quarter Moon in a Ten-Cent Town , from 1978 (Warner Bros. CD 3141-2).

•COUNTRY U.S.A.—

A huge, remarkably deep (twenty-three CDs) collection available directly only from Time-Life Music (1-800-621-7026), with informative liner notes; a wonderful introduction to the golden years.

•CONTEMPORARY COUNTRY—

Early seventies to early nineties. Trace the decline with a second, twenty-one CD Time-Life collection. From Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It to December” to Alabama and Clint Black is one depressing slide.