Beginner's Guide to Hoedown
This triple-disc compilation offers the perfect chance for anyone impressed by seeing Hot Club of Cowtown or The Coal Porters play live to further explore the roots of their music. Selling for less than the cost of a single CD, it provides plenty to attract the interest of anyone with a hankering for some full-tilt bluegrass.
Arranged approximately in chronological order, each disc is sub-titled, the first one being “Old time, square dance and mountain music”. Given the term “hoedown” refers to dance as much as to music, it's no surprise to get several traditional dance songs featuring a “caller” calling out the dance steps to the dancers. Probably fun to dance to, they are of slight interest musically, and any novelty value starts to strain after three or four of these. The disc closer “Man Of Constant Sorrow”, familiar to many from the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack, is better, here in the form of the classic Stanley Brothers version.
But it pays to persevere, for if Disc 1 feels at times a bit like an unwelcome history lesson, Discs 2 and 3 are much better. The opening track of “Bluegrass and beyond”, the second disc, is a vintage “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” from Flat and Scruggs, which, belying its age, leaps out of the speakers like a runaway train. The Dillards performing “Old Man at the Mill” and Bill Monroe's “Uncle Pen” are other highlights, and it's a pity that Johnny Horton's contribution hasn't aged quite so well. It's a tribute to Hot Club of Cowtown that their track towards the end of Disc 2 is by no means disgraced by such illustrious company.
The generally high standard of the second disc continues on to Disc 3, sub-titled “21st century hoedown”. “Dueling Banjos”, here performed by Hayseed Dixie, still sounds good. if probably over-familiar to many listeners. In such high-energy company, Abigail Washburn’s contribution “Last Train” offers a rare change of pace, and she brings a touch of class to the proceedings. And providing proof that UK bands can hold their own, The Cedars contribute another of the highlights with “Extrication Row”, graced by a beguiling vocal from Chantal Hill.
Beginner's Guide to Hoedown was put together by London's Cut A Shine collective. While, as with all projects of this nature, you're unlikely to like everything here, it does a remarkable job of joining the dots between high-octane good-time dance music old and new.