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The Essential: Chet Atkins

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Album Review

Chet Atkins is more esteemed as a session musician and producer than as a solo artist, and critics have rightly noted that much of his immense catalog as a solo artist is unimpressive. It might thus be assumed that it would be difficult to pick a two-CD, 40-track career-spanning retrospective that would both represent much of his finest solo output and appeal to the general listener, not just the country music scholar. Happily, this set manages the difficult feat of doing exactly that, owing to intelligent selection of a wide cross-section of tracks, going all the way back to a 1946 single by Chester Atkins & the All-Star Hillbillies and all the way up to a 1995 recording (though most of the set predates 1970). Atkins' virtuosity as a guitarist has never been in question, but here it's allied with good material and taste, showing him as a fine blender of hillbilly, boogie, and jazz styles in a variety of contexts. It's mostly instrumental, of course, but wisely his talents as a sideman are showcased here and there too on vocal sides by the Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle, Eddy Arnold, the Everly Brothers, and Don Gibson. Even the pop standards are good when chosen this judiciously, and there are some surprisingly bold moves into more electric and rock-influenced territory on cuts like "Slinkey" (with its innovative tremolo), "Boo Boo Stick Beat," the Shadows cover "Man of Mystery," and "Teen Scene" (which he co-wrote with Jerry Reed). It might not be the ultimate Atkins compilation, given the sheer quantity of material the guitarist recorded. But it's a good — and, more crucially, very listenable — starting point for surveying his work as a solo artist.


Born: 20 June 1924 in Luttrell, TN

Genre: Country

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Without Chet Atkins, country music may never have crossed over into the pop charts in the '50s and '60s. Although he recorded hundreds of solo records, Atkins' largest influence came as a session musician and a record producer. During the '50s and '60s, he helped create the Nashville...
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