Flatt on Victor Plus More
Bear Family BCD 15975
Review by Art Menius for Bluegrass Unlimited January 2001
The six CDs of Flatt on Victor Plus More definitely put their emphasis on the “plus more.” The Bear Family collection, rendered to their usual high standards, includes not only Lester’s five studio RCA Victor albums, the three RCA LPs with Mac Wiseman, and the live RCA disc featuring his reunion with Bill Monroe, but Flatt’s one solo album on Columbia plus a disc of eighteen heretofore unreleased Flatt & Scruggs outtakes from 1964 through 1969. Add to that a fifty page, LP sized liner notes book by Tommy Goldsmith featuring numerous extraordinary photographs (perhaps too many from the 1974 concert), and you have an essential set for any fan of bluegrass music’s most famous lead vocalist.
This all totals 148 cuts, thirty-nine of them previously unreleased plus three more previously offered only on 45 rpm singles. Happily, eleven of the newly released tracks come from the wonderful March 1974 concert with Monroe, making for the strongest CD of the half dozen. This final, live CD, delights from start to finish with both Bill and Lester in good form and the entire show now available to enjoy. The initial CD of Flatt & Scruggs ephemera – the rest of Lester and Earl proves mostly inappropriately modern material and unnecessary rerecordings (overproduced by Bob Johnston) of their classics – serves only the needs of completists save for a strong revisit with “Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’” and a couple of too bizarre not to hear once recordings. The Columbia Flatt solo tracks on the second disc also suffer from Johnston’s over production, particularly pounding drums, but the material fits Lester much better. “Vic’s Ride” delivers a super instrumental.
That leaves us with three discs of solid bluegrass and old style acoustic country comprised of the RCA studio recordings, a pleasant mix of old hits, standards, new compositions from Lester, Mac, and band members, and a few novelty and topical songs. They benefit from performances by such folks as Roland White, Vic Jordan, Buck Graves, Paul Warren, Marty Stuart, and Haskel McCormick. Consider these numbers: the intrusive Johnston produced 19 completed masters for the Columbia album, but only a dozen saw the light of day until this box appeared. Bob Ferguson, who tried for a live sound and thus let Lester be in control, produced 104 titles for RCA of which a whopping 101 were released contemporaneously. Any questions about how one should have produced Lester Flatt?
How refreshing and soul satisfying sound the rock solid, unpretentious RCA tracks almost thirty years later. Beyond their classic charm, these songs and tunes stand out for their celebration of individual style. In both material and performance, Lester and Mac wanted to sound like themselves with no confusion relative to other artists or uncertainty about their identities. Moreover, they project both a comfortable competence and unmistakable warmth. Four excellent CD’s out of six in this box make it both a value and a celebration of Lester Flatt’s unfortunately all too often overlooked solo years.