If you listen to vintage Bill Monroe recordings, then to current bluegrass from the likes of Allison Krauss, it’s hard to see how we got from there to here. But once you listen to the Country Gentlemen you can see how the musical dots connect. The Country Gentlemen were one of the first bands to combine the drive of Bill Monroe with modern pop finesse. On The Complete Vanguard Recordings we have an opportunity to discover their influential style while reveling in the freshness of their music.
Fronted by Charlie Waller on guitar and lead vocals, the Country Gentlemen’s lineup included a number of musicians who’ve gone on to important careers of their own. Mandolinist Doyle Lawson founded the band Quicksilver, which continues the Country Gentlemen’s style of tight harmonic bluegrass. After Country Gentleman Ricky Skaggs joined Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band, his own career catapulted him to the top of the country charts. Jerry Douglas had his first steady gig with the Country Gentleman before he evolved into the most in-demand dobro player in the world. Even at the beginnings of their careers, these players were superlative pickers. Here’s the proof.
The Complete Vanguard Recordings includes all the material from The Country Gentlemen (1973) and Remembrances (1974). Their song selection was eclectic and urbane. Tunes by bluegrass traditionalists Bill Monroe and John Duffy joined “contemporary” material by Paul Simon, Kris Kistofferson, John Prine, Steve Goodman, and John Loudermilk. Tight sophisticated vocal harmonies were a fundamental element in their style. They nailed their three-part harmonies on the chorus of “One Morning in May.” In the Country Gentlemen’s hands, even pop material such as “The Leaves that Are Green” by Paul Simon sounds like a bluegrass standard.
David Glasser at Airshow Mastering transferred the original analog recordings into 24 bit 88.2 KHz digital format, where they were tweaked with Sonic Solutions software. The result is a clean, yet warm, sound. Producer Fred Jasper included the original album notes from the ’73 release along with his own introduction. While the packaging isn’t fancy, it is complete. I especially like the cover shot of the band wearing denim pantsuits.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s June ’02 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.