Black Music Matters Festival

Jimmy Martin

Don't Cry to Me: Songs from the film King of Bluegrass – 2004 (Thrill Jockey)

Reviewed by Brad San Martin

CDs by Jimmy Martin

The music of bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin is already quite well-documented these days, from the massive Bear Family boxed set down to several ample single-disk collections. Leave it to filmmaker George Goehl - whose documentary King of Bluegrass is a near-perfect introduction to Martin's peculiar genius - to assemble a collection that is revelatory to newcomers and old fans alike.

Mainly eschewing the already-anthologized classic studio recordings in favor of careening live versions recorded from 1958 through 2001, the collection is remarkably consistent and testament to Martin's unceasing gifts as a performer and bandleader. Worth noting is the hilarious and typically-unhinged onstage banter: brash, outspoken, and a little off-color in the most wonderful sense, as only Martin can be.

The new performances find Martin in fine voice - easily as powerful as Bill Monroe or Ralph Stanley in their later years. The personal eccentricities so apparent in Goehl's film likely prevent him from drawing the sort of top-drawer sidemen heard in the earlier cuts (JD Crowe is typically spectacular on the late '50's cuts), yet it is clear that Martin still has plenty of fantastic music in him.