The only thing tougher than compiling an 85-minute retrospective of Flatt and Scruggs' Columbia recordings is writing a paragraph about it.
This collection spans 1950-1967, from their first standard-setting sessions up to the closing years with Columbia. For sweetness of harmony, the thrill of Scruggs skill, and strong Flatt lyrics, the '50's recordings are the most satisfying, full of energy, ease, and sonic brightness.
Though not the only band to do so, the Foggy Mountain Boys often tuned a half-step higher and their runs sparkled, as on "Flint Hill Special," where Scruggs' fleet staccato trades with Benny Martin's zesty, melodic fiddle.
In the end, this collection is a good, but not great introduction. Each CD could accommodate much more music and many fine performances are missing - sacred material like "Brother I'm Getting Ready to Go" and their cover of "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke" for starter - as are session line-ups. That absence carelessly elides the contribution of musicians like Curly Seckler, Chubby Wise, and Benny Martin.
But any major label reissue of bluegrass is cause for joy - and joy in craft, innovation, and graceful, kin-like interplay is what this seminal partnership was all about.