When Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were members of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, they helped define and refine the bluegrass music genre. They left in 1948 and formed the Foggy Mountain Boys. They began releasing singles in 1951, but it wasn’t until 1957 that they released their first album.
Foggy Mountain Jamboree showcases the two distinct sounds of the band. It is comprised of 12 songs that alternate between Flatt’s warbling tenor telling Southern slice-of-life tales and instrumentals led by Scruggs’ three-fingered banjo-picking style. This new remastered release contains three extra tracks and is a selection from The American Milestone Series of Columbia/Legacy that highlights classic country albums. The last two tracks are credited to The Foggy Mountain Quartet, which is Flatt & Scruggs alongside the voices of Curly Seckler and Benny Martin
“Flint Hill Special” shoots right out of the gate with some blistering fast banjo work that would give any speed-metal musician a run for his money. The fiddle of Benny Martin takes over the lead before the banjo races off again. With the speed at which they play, it’s amazing that their instruments didn’t burst into flames. On “Earl’s Breakdown” Scruggs shows he is a musician with more than one gear. He slows down and you can hear him stretch the notes by his manipulation of the strings. The fiddle alternates again with the banjo and the mandolin gets a turn to lead as well. “Foggy Mountain Special” is a happy toe-tapper that gives everyone a chance to shine, including the bass and guitar. On “Foggy Mountain Chimes” Scruggs sounds like he’s plucking the strings under the bridge to creating a very unique and interesting high-pitched sound.
Flatt’s voice is very evocative as he relates stories of hardship and heartache. “Some Old Day” finds him singing to his mother about hoping to get out of jail. Seckler provides wonderful mandolin flourishes and additional vocals. “Jimmie Brown, the Newsboy” is the tale of a poor, young boy who has become the man of the family and has to make money because his father died a drunk. “Your Love Is Like a Flower” details a woman’s fickle heart that “In the springtime blossoms so fair/ In the fall then they wither away dear”. In “On My Mind” another man won his love, but he’s realizing his mistake in losing her.
The gospel influence of the South can be heard in “It Won’t Be Long” and “Reunion in Heaven” where solace can eventually be found in the afterlife. “It Won’t Be Long” features Paul Warren on fiddle and Josh “Buck” Graves on dobro. Flatt praises the Lord that it won’t be long before they get to Heaven, but the placement of the exuberant “Shuckin’ the Corn” immediately after makes it clear that life needs to be lived to the fullest before they go “Up to that happy home in glory.” Graves’ dobro joins the instrumental fun.
Foggy Mountain Jamboree is only 38 minutes and that includes the three bonus tracks. I enjoyed it a great deal and would recommend it for any serious music fan’s library because of its historical significance and the sheer brilliance of the music.
For those unsure of bluegrass, remember to sample both a song and an instrumental to get the full flavor of what these talented men have to offer.