Personnel: Bill Monroe (mandolin); Jimmy Martin (vocals).
The King and the Father features a dozen of Bill Monroe's early-'50s Decca recordings on which Jimmy Martin provided lead or duet vocals. Although these performances were originally billed only to Monroe, the anthology cleverly gives joint credit to Monroe, the "Father of Bluegrass," and Martin, the "King of Bluegrass," to emphasize Martin's contribution and to target his audience. Many bluegrass devotees regard Martin as the finest bluegrass vocalist of all time, and at the very least, his high lonesome tenor is a model for the genre. He harmonizes sublimely with Monroe, and the two join together in a heartsick cry that matches their penchant for unvarnished, sorrowful bluegrass songs about tragedy and suffering. Many of Monroe's classic recordings are included, such as "Uncle Pen," "The Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake," and "In the Pines," as well as less-frequently anthologized performances. There is much overlap between Monroe and Martin's audiences, but, in the years since Monroe's death, Martin has inherited the "elder statesman of bluegrass" mantle and continued to perform, reaching new and younger listeners. As a result, Martin's stature has only grown, and he may be reaching some new bluegrass fans that investigate Monroe because of his association with Martin, instead of the other way around. Whatever the listener's motivation, The King and the Father provides a sampling of Martin's collaborations with Monroe for old and new fans alike at an affordable price. ~ Greg Adams