THE BLUE SKY BOYS The Sunny Side of Life Bear Family BCD 15951 EK (2003), 5-CD + book
MAC WISEMAN Tic Sweet to be Remembered: Complete Recordings 1951-1964 Bear Family BCD 15976 FK (2003), 6-CD + book The Blue Sky Boys, Bill and Earl Bollick, were among the greatest in the long line of harmony-singing brothers that included the Delmores, Monroes, Stanleys, Louvins, and Everlys. None of them ever had a sweeter and more perfect vocal blend, and the Boys' influence on the duos that followed, especially the Louvins, was enormous.
Bill Bollick was born in 1917 in Hickory, North Carolina, two years before brother Earl. Anno-tator Bill Malone points out that this is the Piedmont part of the state and not really the mountains, though one imagines that residents of the area feel more at home in Asheville than they do in Raleigh. Malone makes many inter-esting points in the lengthy notes that are only part of the deluxe, 75-page hardback book that comes with this beautiful package, like the fact that the Bollicks sometimes rebelled against the strict religious upbringing reflected in the high percentage of gospel songs in their repertoire. It's also noteworthy that their family was not at all poor, though, of course, the Depression years were hard on every-body. It was the relatively good money to be made in the music business that lured the brothers to start their recording-broadcasting careers in earnest when both were still teenagers.
Combining their patented close vocal style with Earl's guitar and Bill's mandolin, the Bollicks had already worked out their formula sound by the time of their first session in 1936, when they recorded their theme song "Sunny Side of Life," and though they got better, they never varied their approach much, at least on record (radio broadcasts do reveal that they used other kinds of material for their live shows). This does make a set like this, which includes all of their commercial recordings prior to retiring in 1951, a somewhat special-ized item.
Listeners who aren't pretty much enthralled by the boys' harmony singing might get worn out by the material, which includes a lot of songs about mother, heaven, heartache, grief, mother, etc. etc. There are many clas-sics here, however, and those who love old-timey duos and have a high toler-ance for sentimentality will definitely want this great set. The Blue Sky Boys found a formula and stuck to it, and there are many who wish that Mac Wiseman had done the same. His early sides are so good that it would wonderful if we had hundreds in this style instead of a few dozen.
Coincidentally, his solo recording career began in the very year that the Bollicks decided to pack it in, and its course was certainly affected by the changing face of the country-music industry. Before he began making records on his own, Wiseman served a distinguished apprenticeship, working in the bands of Molly O'Day, Flatt and Scruggs, and Bill Monroe, and he learned from each experience; one hears something of O'Day's sincerity, Flatt's ability to get a song across, and, of course, Daddy Bill's instrumentation. In his early years, Wiseman can be seen as one of the few stylistic links between classic bluegrass and such country singers as Hank Snow or Roy Acuff. He decision to use a banjo in the band even though he felt that it might be too harsh for ballads proved fateful, as, in fact, he became identified with its sound for listeners who didn't normally tune in bluegrass.
His early style really was bluegrass, though with less room for the banjo, mandolin, and fiddle to stretch out than in the Monroe model, and it's interesting to hear how the sound shifted toward the smoother flavor of the later discs here, first by adding twin fiddles, then by adding drums and electric guitar, and finally by giving up the five-string. By the mid-50s, Wiseman was really a C&W artist, not that he had ever been a million miles removed. But one thing did remain, and that was one of the best voices in the history of American music. It seems safe to say that most DL readers will prefer the Wiseman of "Love Letters in the Sand," " 'Tis Sweet to be Remembered," or this writer's favorite, "I'd Rather Live by the Side of the Road" to the later editions, but his rich, distinctive tenor soars no matter what the material or how middle-of-the-road the arrange-ment. Serious students of the music will be delighted by another beautiful accompanying book, which includes dozens of photos, complete disco-graphical info, and a lengthy bio by Charles Wolfe and Eddie Stubbs that greatly enhances our appreciation of Wiseman's work — Duck Baker (Richmond, VA)