Neal Walters and Brian Mansfield, editors; MusicHound Folk: The Essential Album Guide (Detroit: Visible Ink, 1998) 1034 pp., $24.95 including CD sampler
review By Art Menius
Original publication in Bluegrass Unlimited
With the mass to smash through an NFL line, the 1034 page MusicHound Folk book impresses with extraordinary comprehensiveness and inclusiveness, and it’s up to date with Longview and Gibson Brothers entries. In a tome including Salamander Crossing, Carl Jones, Jim Eanes, Union Springs, and the GrooveGrass Boyz, it’s hard to find many worthy bluegrass artists left out. And some of them can be explained by a paucity of CD releases. The more egregious omissions include Hylo Brown, Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, Bass Mountain Boys, Goins Brothers, Hickory Hill, and New Vintage. Celtic, Louisiana French, and especially old-time music receive remarkably strong coverage. Other folk genre, particularly bluegrass, suffer by comparison.
The MusicHound Folk tome promises guides to the folk – in the broadest, most inclusive sense of the word — recordings available on CD rather than traditional biographical sketches. The entries provide a paragraph or two each to cover the significance and broad biographical facts of each artist or act. The recordings fall under such headings as “What to Buy,” “What to Buy Next,” “What to Avoid,” and “The Rest.” This kind of encyclopedia goes for incredible breadth at the cost of depth.
Length and quality, however, of individual articles vary according to the author more than the subject providing the only serious defect of the book. Sadly, bluegrass gets little of the best writing. The bluegrass essays by John Lupton, Randy Pitts, Steve Gardner, Stephen Betts, and Jon Hartley Fox range from adequate at worst to quite excellent. Otherwise our folks were thrown to the wolves. Douglas Fulmer’s brief sketches consistently disappoint, covering important bluegrass artists with the weakest work in the volume. An adjacent article about Geoff Seitz of the Ill-Mo Boys dwarfs in every way Fulmer’s pitiful Seldom Scene piece. Seemingly every Fulmer essay contains bizarre, unsupportable “information” that a competent editor would have caught. He’s better than Mario Tarradell who describes Chesapeake as the first bluegrass supergroup with a “high lonesome” sound! Elsewhere, for example, I was intrigued to learn that Alison Krauss influenced Laurie Lewis, who was also influenced by Blue Rose! Little editorial effort seems to have gone into consistency. The Dillard-Hartford-Dillard records get 3.5 hounds in the Dillards section and a “woof” or zero under Hartford. Other than Fox, where are the staff writers for this periodical and Bluegrass Now, presumably the journalists who know bluegrass best?
At only $25 including a six song Rounder compilation featuring the Freight Hoppers and Hazel Dickens, this hefty volume is a great value for anyone interested in roots music. Much of the work is of a very high level. It’s just a shame that bluegrass did not receive the same powerful coverage as old-time.