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Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant

Flamin' Guitars – 1997 (Bear Family (German import))

Reviewed by Jon Johnson

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CDs by Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant

How can one sum up the importance of steel guitarist Wesley "Speedy" West and guitarist/fiddler Ivy "Jimmy" Bryant to the evolution of country & western during the '50's in just a few words? Not easily. Suffice it to say that the West/Bryant team was the core of Capitol's studio band during that decade, backing some of Capitol's top names of the day - including Tennessee Ernie Ford and Jean Shepard - on their biggest hits. Such was Capitol's confidence in the pair that the label allowed them to release a series of astonishingly complex country-jazz records, the likes of which have yet to be equalled more than 40 years later.

Following the release of an extremely successful single-disc West/Bryant collection on Razor & Tie in 1995 the German Bear Family label upped the ante and released these four discs, not only compiling all of the duo's '50's instrumental recordings on two discs (a 1975 reunion session is not included, though is available separately), but also includes a third disc of early session work and a fourth of their best-known studio work, including tracks from Ford, Shepard, Tex Williams, Spike Jones and even Bing Crosby. Also included are West's two solo albums on Capitol (both recorded without Bryant) and many previously unreleased tracks from the West/Bryant team, including a positively breathtaking six-minute version of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra's 1929 jazz standard, "China Boy."

This is a shoo-in for being many critics's favorite reissue of 1997 and being proof positive that the words "studio musician" need not be synonymous with the phrase "competent but uninspired." Nashville's current slate of releases would be far more interesting if the top studio groups could muster a third of West and Bryant's imagination and fire. Absolutely essential listening.