Greetings from Asheville, where good music is always found on the turntable. Today, we dive into some Bluegrass, looking back at a release from one of the legends of that genre, Jimmy Martin. Jimmy’s name may not be as well known in mainstream Country circles as Bill Monroe or Flatt & Scruggs, but to those well-educated in Bluegrass, he’s one of the greatest.
The Tennessee-born Martin got his start in the late 1940’s, working with Bill Monroe, singing and playing guitar. It’s interesting to note that Jimmy replaced another Bluegrass legend in Monroe’s band, Mac Wiseman. Many Bluegrass aficionados believe that Jimmy’s time with Monroe resulted in some of the best vocals by the Blue Grass Boys, with the way that Martin and Monroe’s voices worked together. By 1955, Jimmy had left Monroe’s band and formed his own Sunny Mountain Boys. By the time Jimmy passed away in 2005, he had cemented his legacy among the greats of Bluegrass.
On this album, we will not hear any of Jimmy’s vocals, as this work is all about instrumentals. Big and Country Instrumentals, Jimmy’s seventh album release for Decca, released in both stereo and mono versions in the early summer of 1967. No singles, nor the album appeared on the Country charts.
We kick things off with “Big Country”. A rousing number that starts with some smoking mandolin work by Vernon Derrick. However, the real highlight of this track, along with the ensuing three, is the banjo playing of another future Bluegrass legend, J. D. Crowe. Buddy Spicher’s expert fiddling is the highlight.
“Red Rooster” has a very famous melody, but known under a different name, “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain”. No matter what title it is, it’s a fine piece of Bluegrass music.
“Crow on The Banjo” must be one of the highlights of the album, with its controlled breakneck pace, featuring more outstanding banjo work from J. D. Crowe.
Crowe continues his argument for being considered the second-best banjo player of all-time (behind Earl Scruggs, of course) with his work on the classic “You Are My Sunshine”.
The banjo doesn’t come to the forefront as much on “Uptown Blues”. The musicianship is shared by all the players on this track. Flawless playing take what really is an average melody and lifts it into a higher stratosphere.
Side one ends with their version of “Orange Blossom Special”. A good performance, but not anything to really distinguish it from the untold number of versions we’ve been given, over the years.
Side two opens with another of the highlights of this disc, “Wild Indian”. Simply put, great melody.
How about one more cut with the banjo of J. D. Crowe? It happens with “Going Up Dry Branch”. Even though Crowe is on the banjo, the highlight of this track is Buddy Spicher’s fiddle playing. Outstanding! The way a fiddle is supposed to be played.
“Little Maggie, She’s So Sweet” is a well-known Bluegrass classic, known in most circles simply as “Little Maggie”. An outstanding piece of work, here, as the Jimmy Martin and the band give it all.
“Union County” is an alright track, though not as strong as the others. It starts getting a little monotonous by the end. The melody seems a little more primitive or basic than the other tracks on the album.
Everybody knows “Red River Valley”. If you are used to the slower tempo usually used on this song, you will be shaken a bit by the bouncy version, heard on this disc. This is also the oldest track on the disc, having been put to tape in 1963, while the rest of the tracks were recorded between 1965 and 1967. You can hear a bit of difference in the sound quality on this track, compared to the other eleven tracks. My favorite version of this old favorite. I really like Jimmy’s take on this track.
The album’s final track is titled “Theme Time”. What I like, here, and what they should have done with “Union County”, is that they take a basic melody and spice it up, some runs and riffs. Not the album’s best track, but a good one to end on.
This album is not currently in print, but was on the market for several years, at least through the mid 1970’s, as it remained in the catalogs, following the demise of Decca into MCA in 1973. I found some copies online, Most in the $10 to $15 range. If you collect 8-tracks or cassettes, it also was released on those formats, as well.
Overall, this is a good piece of instrumental Bluegrass. Jimmy Martin was a fine guitarist; as previously mentioned, J. D. Crowe is also a legend; and Buddy Spicher ranks as one of the all-time great fiddlers. Even the late Grady Martin, a legendary session man, makes an appearance on “Red River Valley”. If you like Bluegrass, this is an album worth having. Your thoughts?
Saving vinyl, one record at a time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike the Country Musicologist is a lifelong music and radio fanatic, model railroader, lover of vintage agriculture, and big sports fan, including the Colts, Reds, Hurricanes, Pacers, Purdue & Butler Universities. He has collected records since childhood, focusing on classic country and top 40 oldies music. He convinced Vincennes University to give him an Associate’s Degree in broadcasting. He’s worked for several stations in Indiana and North Carolina. Be sure to follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.