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Various Artists

Mountain Journey: Stars of Old Time Music – 2005 (Rounder)

Reviewed by Ken Burke

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Rounder's most important contribution has been its willingness to preserve and nurture rural folk music. This compilation provides a potent sampler of what they've accomplished during the last four decades.

The main focus of "Mountain Journey" is old time artists who learned their spare, evocative pre-bluegrass style first hand. Some, like Ola Belle Reed ("Wayfaring Pilgrim," "My Epitaph") and Doc Watson ("Am I Born to Die") were genuine icons of the original movement. By contrast, Hazel Dickens ("Pretty Bird"), along with Alice Gerrard ("Two Soldiers"), helped spur the interest of '60s folkies in Appalachian sounds. Most of these recordings were done during the '70s, but Dickens sweet-voiced discovery Ginny Hawker ("Not A Word of That Be Said") and Dry Branch Fire Squad's Ron Thomason ("He's Coming To Us Dead") prove that modern performers can still channel this genre's chilling, authentic feel.

Much of this was music was originally conceived to entertain friends and family. So, when listening to J.P. Fraley's folk reel ("Wild Rose of the Mountain"), Buddy Thomas' foot-stomping Civil War-era fiddle hoedown ("Sweet Sunny South") or the Fuzzy Mountain String Band's fiddle and dulcimer duet ("Bonaparte's Retreat"), the charm of a backwoods parlor dance is easily evoked.

This set may sound alien to mainstream fans, but roots music aficionados who dug the "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou" soundtrack, will deem both essential listening.