The Three Bells - Single
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Eight CDs and over 240 songs is overkill, except that there's a lot worth hearing here. Disc One opens in 1954 with Jim Ed and Maxine Brown's debut recordings for the Fabor label, including "Looking Back to See," which was successful enough to get them a touring slot with a young Elvis Presley. The sound, while primitive in comparison to their subsequent RCA recordings is very pleasing, with bright harmonies and simple, straightforward accompaniment. As soon as they got to RCA , their sound bloomed — the textures of the instruments became more vivid, with the "voices" of the guitars nearly as crisp as those of the singers themselves. By this time, they were one of country music's great mixed harmony groups, and were applying those vocal talents to bluesy numbers, as well as softer country and bluegrass material. "The Three Bells" was the massive hit that turned the trio toward pop material in 1959. Their repertory on Disc Three was broadening to include more overt folk material and pop standards. By the time of Disc Four, Hank Garland and John D. Loudermilk were playing most of the guitar, though Atkins was still producing, and the results remained impressive. Disc Five is dominated by a brace of inspirational tunes cut for their Little Brown Church Hymnal album, and also includes their cover of "They Call the Wind Maria," one of Jim Ed Brown's best performances. Disc Six is probably the only 1964-vintage archive to feature songs by Hank Snow and Bob Dylan coming from the same outfit. Discs Seven and Eight leave the group at the end of their time as a trio, prior to Bonnie's retirement late in 1967 — highlights include a ton of beautifully sung country, pop, and folk numbers.