This set (Bakersfield; Guitar Slingers; Western Swing), drawing mainly from Capitol Records, gives an overview of the West Coast side of country that flourished in post-WWII California. Volume One Bakersfield contains more or less what one would expect: several Tommy Collins hits, a trio of hits by Rose Maddox (hands down the most significant female purveyor of the Bakersfield sound), tracks from Jean Shepard, Wynn Stewart, Ferlin Husky and (slightly more offbeat) Bobby Austin s fine version of the song he cowrote with Johnny Paycheck, "Apartment #9."
Volume Two contains a couple of Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West tunes (and a solo Bryant number), two instrumental tracks from Merle Haggard's Strangers featuring the great Roy Nichols, and selections spotlighting the prowess of men who began or first became known as pickers before going on to other things - like Roy Clark and Glen Campbell. There s a track from the James Burton/Ralph Mooney legendary album "Corn Pickin and Slick Slidin," two displaying the twangy side of Les Paul and a previously unreleased, scorching version of the Ellington standard "Caravan" from Husky.
Volume Three claims to survey the entire West Coast western swing scene from 1945 through the few remnants that made it to the sixties. As the disc makes clear, that scene was a diverse one, ranging from the hillbilly boogie of Merrill Moore to the western stylings of Jack Guthrie to the accordion-powered stomp of Spade Cooley to the more traditional sound of Ole Rasmussen, who clearly modeled himself on Bob Wills. It s also nice to see two cuts included from Cliffie Stone, one of the prime movers in west coast country, the honking rhythm and blues of his "Barracuda" is a highlight. Another selling point is two previously unissued transcriptions of Tex Williams, one - "Cowboy Opus No. 1" - a turn thru bebop, complete with vibes, yet still with a distinctive western swing cadence.
There are some oddities worth noting. Volume One, strangely enough, includes no cuts by Buck Owens. In fact, veteran journalist Rich Kienzle's liner notes begin by acknowledging this omission and attribute it to the fact that Owens s music is widely available. Still, one might think that a compilation purporting to give an overview of the Bakersfield sound should contain at least one track from the artist most identified with that sound. Or, one could question why Volume Two has four tracks from Speedy West and/or Jimmy Bryant; it might have been nice to see another track included from, say, Burton and Mooney, or the 1962 Merle Travis-Joe Maphis collaboration (from which a single track is taken).
Such quibbles aren't meant to detract from the overall strength of these discs. Many tunes contained therein may be available on other compilations or artist collections, and so may not be that attractive to collectors, but there are a few cuts not readily available or are even previously unreleased, and in general these discs do a good job of representing what they set out to document.