Sony is re-releasing some classic Flatt & Scruggs. The two disc Foggy Mountain Gospel includes 52 songs, intended to be every gospel related recording they made during their tenure with Columbia. These recordings date from 1951 to 1966. (Their duo career ran from 1948-1969.) They include at least two dedicated gospel albums, the 1959 Songs of Glory and the 1966 When the Saints Go Marching In. This should include all of both albums, non-album singles, plus parts of various other albums, including the tribute Songs of the Famous Carter Family.
You need this album. If you have any interest in bluegrass or gospel music at all, this comes highly rated. Flatt and Scruggs came up as part of Bill Monroe’s most classic 40s band, thus being there shaping the very creation of bluegrass. Moreover, much of that music was gospel, and they learned gospel quartet singing with Monroe in their 1945-48 stint.
Relative to some other Flatt & Scruggs, this gospel music tends more to emphasize vocal harmony singing rather than the fancy pickin’. There’s a certain type of religious modesty reflected there; you wouldn’t want to be showing off when you’re singing about Jesus. At that though, there’s still some pretty fair playing, just in a more restrained manner. Check out the dobro jam on “Joy Bells.”
Another way to say it, the gospel songs brought out their strongest songwritery aspects; the vocal melody carries more of the musical payload, rather than setting up showcases for the fancy playing.
I was particularly struck by the vocal harmonies of the “Reunion in Heaven.” Lester really works up that high lonesome sound climbing up those golden stairs.
They had a surprisingly consistent level of high quality over nearly all of these gospel songs. Not only that, but most of them are credited as Flatt and/or Scruggs originals, including that striking “Reunion in Heaven” and what appears to be the original version of the the Flatt penned standard “I’m Working on a Road,” recorded in 1951, and “Give Me the Flowers While I’m Living” from 1959′s Songs of Glory.
“Let the Church Roll On” (L Certain-G Stacey, pseudonyms for Scruggs and Flatt respectively) features some of the best exuberant hooks on the set, and one of the more interesting lyrics. It reads like Paul writing an epistle, giving advice on how to cope with practical difficulties with drunks and corrupt deacons in the church. “There’s women in the church got paint on their face. What shall we do? Take some water, wash it off, let the church roll on.”
Even the covers are mostly somewhat lesser known songs, rather than a 10,000th version of “Amazing Grace” or something. In that range, “Mother Prays Loud in Her Sleep” particularly sticks out, with those ascending cries of “loud, loud, loud.” Ah man, that’s the stuff right there.
Particular attention should be paid to “A Stone the Builders Refused,” from their 1966 gospel album The Saints Go Marching In, written by a young Tom T Hall. The narrator turns out to be the rejected stone, rather than Jesus, as I expected. Besides having an extra interesting lyric, this also features some of the best pickin’ on the set.
Plus, for geeky fanboys such as myself, this collection has some particularly useful liner notes.
Like I said, you need this collection. Get this, and you’ve got half of a good Flatt and Scruggs collection.
I’m not sure what exact album would be the other half (unless you want to get into some expensive Bear Family box sets), but it’s probably not this Foggy Mountain Jamboree CD. Don’t get me wrong, it’s some pretty outstanding stuff. However, it’s definitely not a comprehensive collection, not very good value for the money, and the CDs are copy protected, ie purposely corrupted.
There’s a single disc of Foggy Mountain Jamboree with 15 songs. This comes as a re-issue of a 12 song 1957 collection, which was itself collected from seven years worth of recordings.
My favorite out of this batch is “Reunion in Heaven,” which is the same recording as on the Foggy Mountain Gospel set. “It Won’t Be Long” also appears on both sets.
Flatt and Scruggs were known more for Scrugg’s fancy banjo picking than for gospel harmony, though, and there’s definitely some payoff for that. Earl Scrugg’s plays some of the rockingest banjo ever on the opening “Flint Hill Special.” The “Randy Lynn Rag” isn’t far behind on that count. That does hit the sweet spot.
Still, this does not represent very good value for the money. It’s not at all a comprehensive package, and sells at Amazon for $12 for about 39 minutes of music- in other words, about a half full CD.
IMPORTANT RECORD COMPANY BS WARNING: The CD is listed as copy-protected. This means that the record company intends to sell you a purposely defective copy. Depending on exactly what kind of scheme they’re using, you might likely not be able to even simply play this on your computer. You probably won’t be able to do other normal things even for your own personal consumption. You probably can’t make a backup copy to keep in the car, or rip mp3s to load on your own iPod.
By rights, these 50 year old recordings should long since be public domain. Instead, with the federal government in their pockets, they wish to charge you a cartel price of $12 for 39 minutes of old tunes- and then not let you actually get your proper use even after you spend the money.
Yet overpriced, but still a better value, there seems to be an older edition of Foggy Mountain Jamboree on CD. It has three less songs (12 instead of 15). However, those three are not particularly the key tracks on the album. This CD is a couple of bucks cheaper, and does not have the copy protection nonsense.