Don Reno has been gone 22 years and Smiley 34, but it's a rare festival that a number of their songs are not sung and remarked upon. Reno and Smiley first came together in 1949, performed together for many years and then amicably split in 1964, during a time when bluegrass musicians were struggling to survive. In 1970, Smiley rejoined Reno along with Bill Harrell and the Tennessee Cut-Ups, fiddler Buck Ryan and bass player Jerry McCoury.
These cuts were done sometime in 1970. For most bluegrass bands at that time, recording was a hurry up affair, and this record shows signs of that. Even with the remastering of several tracks it's obvious there wasn't much care in the recording of the music. Sales were very poor.
But this reissue isn't about sound quality. It's a peek into the past, when two of bluegrass' more famous pioneers rejoined forces and, for a little while, wrote fondly remembered pages of bluegrass history. There's a mixture of Reno-penned songs (Smiley is given credit, also, but it's believed he took almost no part in composing) like "Flowers Are Like People," "True or False" and "Emotions." The latter could well have been a rock 'n' roll song of the era. They also included some popular bluegrass numbers from other composers, including "Shine, Hallelujah, Shine" and "Muleskinner Blues."
Despite the quality of the recording, the magic of their duets (and trios with Harrell) shines through. Listening to "Soldier's Last Letter," you know the Reno and Smiley partnership was something special for all time. They were together again for a short while, but they made bluegrass history that, thanks to Rebel (and extensive liner notes by Eddie Stubbs), we can all enjoy one more time.