Sweethearts in Heaven

Sweethearts in Heaven

by Reno & SmileyReno & Smiley


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The United States has a number of failings for which it should feel a certain degree of national shame. The preeminence of the Bear Family label is one of them. The fact that a German record company has, for three decades now, been the world's foremost preserver and reissuer of classic American country, bluegrass, old-timey, and rockabilly recordings is one that should cause deep reflection. Ultimately, it would be nice if it spurred the American music industry to mend its ways -- but in the meantime, Americans are forced to send their dollars overseas in order to acquire exquisite collections like this one, which brings together 24 tracks from four different recording sessions made for the Dot label in 1957 and 1964 by the legendary duo of singer/guitarist Arthur "Red" Smiley and banjoist/singer Don Reno. As co-leaders of a band that, at various times, included such bluegrass luminaries as fiddler Benny Martin, mandolinist Hank Garland, and guest vocalist (and producer) Mac Wiseman, Reno & Smiley are responsible for some of the most powerful and exciting bluegrass recordings of the postwar period; the combination of Smiley's rich, beautifully controlled lead voice and Reno's innovative banjo style was simply unbeatable. Unfortunately, only the 1957 sessions (which represent half of this program) feature both Reno and Smiley; by 1964 the pair had split up, and the remaining 12 songs on this album feature a different supporting band and lead vocals that alternate between guitarist Chuck Haney and Reno himself. The collection's most thrilling highlights come on the earlier session, with the hokey but charming "Howdy Neighbor Howdy" and a transcendent arrangement of, believe it or not, "Cotton-Eyed Joe." Smiley's vocal performance on "Your Love Is Dying" offers what are perhaps the most hair-raising moments on a consistently fine record. But there are noteworthy performances on the 1964 session as well, notably a fine arrangement of "Soldier's Joy" and a swinging Reno banjo showcase titled "Three Finger Hop." Overall, this disc is an invaluable document of one of America's finest bluegrass ensembles, and is highly recommended to any fan of the genre.

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