Flatt & Scruggs: Foggy Mountain Jamboree / Foggy Mountain Gospel

Michael Metivier

Hours of bluegrass, country, and gospel from one of the 20th century's most important musical duos, reissued with thought and care for all y'all.

Flatt & Scruggs

Foggy Mountain JamboreeFoggy Mountain Gospel

Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2005-07-12
UK Release Date: Available as import
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I Saw the Light With Some Help From My Friends
Rating: 8
US release date: 12 July 2005
UK release date: Available as import

by Michael Metivier
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Country and bluegrass fans will see an embarrassment of riches this summer. Not only are nine out of every 10 summer festivals devoted to either genre, but they've now got four discs of reissued, re-mastered, and newly compiled music from the legendary duo of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Although Sony/Legacy has occasionally drawn ire (some from me, yes) for dubious choices and thin compilations, they have done masterfully right by Flatt & Scruggs, offering up fine bonus tracks on the reissues and a thorough examination of 20 years of the duo's gospel cuts. As well they should -- Flatt and Scruggs are as deserving of word association with "pioneer" as Willa Cather and Neil Armstrong. The trails they blazed throughout their careers are tended faithfully to this day by bluegrass innovators and copycats -- so faithfully that line between those two groups of followers is often razor thin.

Foggy Mountain Jamboree is the lodestone here for both grizzled devotees and curious youngsters (myself included). And for those long hip to its charms, there is no need to explain what's contained herein, save the three bonus tracks and fancy-ass re-mastering. But for those of us Blue-Staters raised on DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince instead of Flatt & Scruggs, here's a primer. The keyword in Foggy Mountain Jamboree is Jamboree, a party, celebration, damn good time. Make no mistake: this is party music. You put the needle to the record (or laser to aluminum, or iPod witchcraft to pixie dust) and you dance like a fool. The hallmarks of bluegrass are virtuosic musicianship, blazing speed, and solos aplenty. "Flint Hill Special", which opens Jamboree is about as pure in form as you can get. Flatt's rhythm guitar is rock-steady on the instrumental cut, but it doesn't just keep time. His chord shapes and phrasing subtly compliment the more noticeable solo work on the cut. Chubby Wise's fiddle flies, as does Scruggs' passionate speed-banjo. Individual notes, when they're not being rifled through by the lead instruments, also have the ability to surprise, catch you off guard as they're bent, stretched or stutter-stepped into the hard-line meter.

"Foggy Mountain Special" is another perfect instrumental example of Flatt & Scruggs' indelible contributions to bluegrass. For one, it's bursting with infectious joy -- evident in the playful bass-note climbing and exuberant performances, but also in the feeling you get listening to it. Even if bluegrass style is not your thing, there is no mistaking what the sound intends. This is not reflective or soul-searching music. But it's rich with cocky fun, strutting, laughter, and dancing. Dancing, yes. We all know where that, plus a little moonshine, can lead. In that respect, it's not unlike most club music (even notwithstanding Rednex's nails-on-chalkboard take on "Cotton Eye Joe"). "Your Love Is Like a Flower" is graced with Flatt's tenor, a bittersweet pastoral love song describing just the kinds of intense but fleeting encounters struck up at local dances everywhere across time.

Not to blaspheme too much with all that movin' and shakin', Flatt & Scruggs were also big purveyors of gospel tunes, evidenced in particular by the last cut on Jamboree, "Reunion in Heaven". The bonus tracks ("Dear Old Dixie", "On My Mind", and "Pray For the Boys") are inserted sideways into the reissue, so that "Heaven" retains its album-closing position. It's an odd move, but it works, since the chaste, reverent, and down-tempo tune functions exactly like the Sunday morning after a Saturday night barnburner. It's also presented on Legacy's two-disc, 52-track Foggy Mountain Gospel compilation, an exhaustive collection of Flatt & Scruggs' gospel songs recorded over a 20-year span. They run the gamut from the omnipresent ("When the Saints Go Marching In", "Paul and Silas") to the unique ("Mother Prays Loud in Her Sleep", "Bubbling in My Soul").

Culled from such a wide span of albums, Foggy Mountain Gospel is reminiscent of the God third of Johnny Cash's Love, God, Murder compilation trilogy, only with three times the amount of testifying. It's an extremely handy organization of material, allowing not only listening enjoyment but also a music student's repository of American Gospel tradition. By isolating these tracks from their albums, it's also a considerable amount to digest at one time. The songs are by nature short and compact, not unlike a sip of wine and communion wafer. But also like bread and wine, you can get filled up mighty quick. I find myself going to Foggy Mountain Gospel for singular, selected pleasures rather than a wall-to-wall experience. "Angel Band" is a remarkable song in just about anyone's hands, and of course Flatt & Scruggs' version is a standout. "When the Angels Carry Me Home" is a boisterous call-and-response, and "God Gave Noah the Rainbow Sign" is cheery and smile-inducing with its banjo and harmonica soloing, despite the apocalypse envisioned in the final verse.

The unflinching uniformity of style and sound on Foggy Mountain Gospel, while representing pure commitment and reverence to form, in part led to the dissolution of the partnership between Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs in 1969. Facing a third decade of recording and performing, Flatt wanted to continue mining the traditional vein of bluegrass while Scruggs sought to diversify, branch out and meld their style with the emerging folk and country scenes. The third offering of Legacy's current reissue batch is credited to Earl Scruggs with Special Guests, I Saw the Light With Some Help From My Friends. Recorded in late 1971, and released in '72, it features sons Gary, Steve, and Randy as well as such renegades and longhairs as Linda Ronstadt, Arlo Guthrie, Vassar Clements, Norman Blake, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. As you'd expect, the flavor here is more along the lines of relaxed post-Sweetheart of the Rodeo country than even-keeled bluegrass. Think Nudie suit as opposed to suit and tie. The all-star ensemble covers everything from Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings" and June Cash's "Ring of Fire" to Monkee Michael Nesmith's "Some of Shelley's Blues". "Propinquity" shuffles on a sparse bass drum and cymbal beat, and with two separate banjo lines. Scruggs keeps on rolling gently with the chord progression, then adds another a few octaves up that takes more liberty with the steady rhythm. As with Foggy Mountain Jamboree, Legacy also inserts three bonus tracks before the final title track. If you've got a few hours to kill, and also all three of these records at your disposable, "I Saw the Light" is a fitting conclusion, drawing all the elements of Jamboree, Gospel, and Light into one joyous, danceable song of praise.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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