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Maddox Brothers and Rose

The Most Colorful Hillbilly Band in America – 1998 (Bear Family (German import))

Reviewed by Jon Johnson

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CDs by Maddox Brothers and Rose

While the California-based Arhoolie label has long done right by theMaddoxes and their seminal 1947 to 1951 recordings for 4 Star, the group's later Columbia recordings (1952-1957) have been far harder to come by, the only CD collection up until now being a semi-bootleg European import entitled "The Hillbilly Boogie Years."

Fortunately, Bear Family has stepped up to the plate with this superb collection, collecting not only the group's entire output for Columbia, but also Rose Maddox's complete solo Columbia sessions, including her brief pairing with sister-in-law Retta Maddox as Rose and Retta.

While collectors have long tended to gravitate towards the group's 4 Star recordings because of their sheer wildness, the act was still more than capable of their usual near-anarchy during the Columbia period; particularly "Ugly and Slouchy," "I've Got Four Big Brothers (to Look After Me)," and the hell-bent-for-leather lunacy of "The Death of Rock and Roll" (really a particularly manic version of Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman").

Though the group lost perhaps a little of their endearing rough edge during their Columbia tenure, the trade-off was better studios, better distribution and a chance to work with top-drawer studio musicians such as Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, Joe Maphis and Billy Strange. It works more often than not.

Rose's early solo material, by comparison, can be a little hit-and-miss. Cut off from the inspired hijinks of her brothers and finding herself backed by the best studio musicians of the day, not to mention the early Nashville Sound production, she plays it straight and professional for the most part, though occasionally catching fire with "Wild Wild Young Men" and "Lookie There Over There." She was to strike a more consistant balance between her backing musicians and her natural enthusiasm on her Fifties and Sixites Capitol recordings, collected on Bear Family's four-disc "The One Rose" collection.

The packaging is up to Bear Family's usual standards of excellence, as is the accompanying 28-page booklet written by Robert Oermann and Deke Dickerson. The 14 unreleased tracks (4 group and 10 solo) date from 1956-1958 sessions; left in the can more than likely because Columbia was quickly losing interest in the act by that late period.

This is an excellent look at the later years of one of the era's sassiest acts, as well as a valuable collection of Rose's early solo recordings; all the more poignant given its release a mere two months before Rose's death in April. They don't make 'em like this anymore.