The Carter Family: 1927-1934

Their setup was primitive enough–guitar, Autoharp, and vocals–but in the late ’20s the trio of A.P. Delaney Carter, his wife Sara, and his sister-in-law Maybelle would change (chart?) the course of country music forever. They did it with haunting harmonies, incredible guitar playing (thanks to Maybelle’s driving strums on her Gibson L-5 guitar), and a vast repertoire that included murder ballads, gospel tunes, love songs, and Appalachian folk tunes–many of which would be covered by musicians for decades to come. Unlike their musical peers in the late ’20s and early ’30s, the Carters weren’t just playing “hillbilly” music; this was, quite simply, country music, and their timeless output still resonates with listeners today. JSP’s bargain-priced, five-CD collection is easily the most complete, essential collection of their music available, capturing and remastering their RCA Victor recordings (their later, less-seminal sessions for Decca and the American Record Company are not included). Hearing five CDs’ worth of music from the Carter Family is almost sensory overload–from the initial 1927 Bristol sessions, which Johnny Cash hailed as “the single most important event in the history of country music,” to their depression-era recordings. Even today, Sara Carter’s voice sounds aching, yet empowered. Whether they’re yodeling through “The Foggy Mountain Top,” singing a feminist anthem like “Single Girl, Married Girl,” or harmonizing with Maybelle on “Worried Man Blues,” you can hear the Carters’ profound influence on country music. A must-have. –Jason Verlinde