Before there was the Del McCoury Band, there was Del McCoury and the Dixie Pals. With bluegrass a part-time avocation rather than a full-time career, it’s no surprise that the lineup behind McCoury’s high lonesome tenor was ever-shifting, but the group still managed to knock out four albums for (or acquired by) Rebel between 1975 and 1985. The label drew on them for 1991’s Classic Bluegrass compilation, but has returned to the well again for this new collection, and it’s a deep one; though there’s only one duplicated cut, the quality of the music is consistently high across the two CDs.
My Dixie Home is of historical interest, of course — want to hear what Ronnie McCoury sounded like when he was still in high school? — but it’s also a powerful set on its own terms. The differences between the Del McCoury Band and the Dixie Pals are more subtle than the name change might suggest. Not only was Del in fine voice throughout, he had some great pickers pass through the band, especially mandolinist Herschel Sizemore and fiddler Sonny Miller, heard on two selections from a 1981 release.
In fact, the biggest contrasts between then and now are in the production — by modern standards, some of it here is pretty rough — and in the selection of material. With less input from his sons, Del leaned more toward straight-ahead bluegrass and country songs than he has since, and while Bill Monroe, Reno & Smiley, Mac Wiseman and Bob Wills tunes are present, there’s nothing drawn from the repertoires of Tom Petty or Richard Thompson.
That may be a shortcoming for some folks, but if so, it’s their loss; what’s here, by any other measure, is mighty fine.