Classics Unleashed

The Essential Chet Atkins (RCA Nashville/Legacy)
Chet Atkins
Chet Atkins and Les Paul (Sony BMG)
Chester and Lester

By Bob Mitchell

I'm a lucky person. A man who worked on my Martin D-28 also built a guitar for Chet Atkins. During a concert, Atkins recognized the man's work on stage and as fate would have it, it was the man I happened to meet during the show.

As I recall, the man's name was Hill and he invited me to join him in Atkins' dressing room. It was a special meeting and Atkins was his characteristically modest self. He joked about having to tune his guitar so many times during the performance that the only thing people would remember about Chet Atkins is an inability to keep his guitar in tune. I smiled and said, "I doubt it." That incident occurred more than 40 years ago and I am safe in saying Atkins will always be remembered for keeping a guitar in tune, playing it like no one else, influencing generations of musicians and leaving a legacy for countless additional generations of musicians.

Now, thanks to Sony BMG you can enjoy an exceptional collection of the magical Atkins touch. If you like guitar music, in fact, even if you think you don't like guitar music, these discs deserve your attention. Sony BMG has tastefully assembled 40 selections on the Essential release and re-mastered the legendary recording of Chet Atkins and Les Paul.

The Essential Chet Atkins (2 CD set): Goodness gracious! Where does one start when attempting to describe the genius and talent of such a significant figure? Is there anything that has not been said? Are there any unused adjectives? None I know of. Atkins' name is synonymous with the guitar, originality and commitment to quality music. A very short list of highlights includes a groovy "Guitar Blues" (1946), "Centipede Boogie" (1949), "Root Hog, or Die" (with Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters, 1949), "Country Gentleman" (1953), "Big D" (with Eddie Arnold, 1956), "Oh Lonesome Me" (with Don Gibson , 1957), "Cannonball Rag" (with Jerry Reed, 1970) and "Is There Anything Better Than This" (with Merle Travis, 1974).

Chester and Lester: Several years ago I saw Les Paul show at a Manhattan jazz club. As if that was not exciting enough, Tommy Emmanuel was Les's guest. (Emmanuel was heavily influenced by Atkins. In fact, Atkins once described Emmanuel as the "greatest guitar player on the planet.")

Unfortunately, you won't be able to experience the excitement of that evening but you can enjoy two other giants, Atkins and Paul. The informal recording, made in 1975, is probably the only jam session ever to win a Grammy. My LP wore out years ago, so it's wonderful to hear these songs again. Highlights include a lovely, sentimental and slightly-swinging "It's Been a Long Long Time," a medley of "Moonglow" and "Theme from Picnic," an innovative "Out Of Nowhere," and a six-minute frolic on "Avalon."

The disc also captures the intimacy of an informal get together, inclusive of laughter, teasing and light-hearted banter. As a bonus, there are four previously unreleased tracks including their vibrant remake of "The World is Waiting For the Sunrise," and "You Brought a New Kind of Love To Me."

On a five-point scale of historical and musical excellence these releases merit a five.

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