Charlie Poole was a heavy-drinking, banjo-picking motherfucker, prone to mercurial temper flares and sublime music-making. Though his hardscrabble roots in the North Carolina Piedmont informed his behavior, his playing style and suit-and-tie presentation insisted that he was no hokey purveyor of hillbilly music. The sides Poole recorded in the '20s and '30s (all of which are gathered on this beautiful three-CD box set) were revolutionary; not only did he revisit familiar country tunes, but in the same way that Bessie Smith didn't allow herself to be strictly limited to the blues, he dug into other popular genres ragtime, blues, Tin Pan Alley to create a singular style. This set is marvelously remastered, making decades-old material sound fresh, but it's also a bit confusing. As the unwieldy subtitle indicates, this box is not just about Charlie Poole, but also about "the roots of country music," which means that Poole shares space with his predecessors, contemporaries and copycats. It makes for a highly listenable set of early country music, but it also unnecessarily shifts the focus away from an important figure.
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