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Misc. Reviews 

Flatt & Scruggs on DVD: Get with the OGs of bluegrass

Wednesday, Apr 11 2007
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The invention of the DVD has resulted in long-unavailable and never-available slices of culture, popular and otherwise, appearing in the world's marketplace. A primo example of this is the two-volume debut of the series Best of the Flatt & Scruggs TV Show, each disc presenting two 30-minute episodes of the syndicated Flatt & Scruggs Grand Ole Opry series. The show was originally broadcast in select markets (read: the American South and there-'bouts, where country music and bluegrass were perceived to be most popular) in the years 1955-1969. And dig this, fellow culture-vultures: This compendium includes priceless commercials from regional sponsor Martha White Self-Rising Flour, each including a handy cooking tip from Miss Ann Abby (something of a redneck Martha Stewart). The high point of these is a solution to the nagging dilemma facing outdoorsy-types everywhere: namely, how to enjoy fresh bread while camping or picnicking — "campfire joy is on the way!" By gum, they don't make TV like this anymore on purpose!

The musical performances, however, are exemplary and close to damn-near perfection as you could get. Patriarch Bill Monroe may've "invented" bluegrass and the Stanley Brothers were hard-core keepers of the flame, but Flatt & Scruggs were likely most responsible for bluegrass' international popularity. (Of course, it didn't hurt that F&S performed the theme for the Beverly Hillbillies and even appeared on the massively popular, enduring CBS sitcom.) On these programs, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and their ace combo performed traditional fiddle and banjo tunes, country hits, gospel hymns, breakneck secular bluegrass, and later into the '60s, contemporary folk songs. (Scruggs' penchant for the latter clashed with the notions of the more trad-minded — some might say reactionary — Flatt, eventually leading to their breakup.) Humorous shtick is at a minimum, musicianship is stunning, and their close vocal harmonies cut to even this agnostic's soul. Attention collectors and fanboy/girl: There's footage of Earl playing some excellent guitar, and the a cappella rendition of "Precious Memories" was not recorded by F&S commercially! Whether you're a casual bluegrass fan or a devoted Americana-ologist, these DVDs are the shit and quite essential.

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Mark Keresman

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