It’s odd to think that more than any other genre, country and bluegrass have offered up stars in pairs or in the configuration of a family. The Carter Family ostensibly laid the foundation, and the songbook, for subsequent generations. And while Bill Monroe made his name fronting a band, it was his earlier work with his brothers that allowed for his following success. In that band, the Foggy Mountain Boys, he fronted though, was a guitarist and fiddler that would leave his employ and gain a wider renown than even Monroe.
Beginning the Stars of the Grand Ol’ Opry compilation, dating from a time when real music mattered, is the half of the album given over to Jim and Jesse. Growing up in Virginia, the McReynolds brothers were at the cross section of the north and south, allowing for exposure to all kinds of music and all types of culture. The pair’s first offering here, “Border Ride,” makes use of recording innovations set in motion by Les Paul while still including more than a passing reference to auld tyme musics. It’s a technically strong opening, but not one that’s immediately ingratiating. Despite Jim and Jesse’s following efforts, they simply weren’t the stars of this outing.
Earl Flatt and Lester Scruggs wound up being heard by so many millions of people that it’s just barely fathomable. Working up the Beverly Hillbillies’ theme song made the pair a good deal of cash, but also made bluegrass something of a cheesey commodity. The sitcom wasn’t a serious endeavor thus making its theme song something of a novelty hit. But that did translate back to the country charts. And with a swelling fervor around bluegrass – something Flatt and Scruggs aided Monroe in concocting – the pair would continue on with successful solo careers. On this compilation, though, the pair goes in on a spate of recognizable songs, including “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” which amounts to their theme song.
But accompanying that best known offering are standards like “Salty Dog,” delivered in shared vocals and enough solo space for any listener to properly assess the pair’s musical acuity. Continuing on with standards, “Rolling in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” makes an appearance before the second half of the album’s over. But even if that well know composition hadn’t cropped up, Flatt and Scruggs are able to make even the most foreign sounding Americana sound familiar and even welcoming. And that’s what bluegrass music’s about.