Rose Maddox is perhaps best-known today for the high-spirited recordings she made with her family as a part of Maddox Brothers and Rose in the late ’40s and early ’50s. Maddox Brothers and Rose not only helped pave the way for rockabilly and the Bakersfield Sound of Tommy Collins and Buck Owens (and even that doesn’t adequately convey the band’s admirable versatility), but the young woman fronting them communicated an assertiveness that no other female country singer of the time could match.
Rose went on to a fairly successful solo country career for Capitol. She recorded a number of hits, a handful of which reached the Top 10, including a couple of delightful duets with Buck Owens. This album documents another milestone in her illustrious career. It was not only the first bluegrass album to feature a female vocalist, it also sparked a number of other bluegrass recordings by other country stars, including Porter Wagoner and George Jones & Melba Montgomery. And even though the record didn’t generate a hit, it remains her biggest-selling album.
While there had been female musicians in bluegrass from the start (accordionist Sally Ann Forrester was in Bill Monroe’s band in 1944), they were few and far between, and none had yet to step forward and take the mike until Rose, after words of encouragement from Monroe, recorded this album in 1962. The musicians included not only some of the best bluegrass pickers around, but also ace fiddler Tommy Jackson and Maddox’s own steel guitarist, Wayne Gailey, whose presence caused some friction with some of the bluegrass musicians. That Rose stood her ground is testament to her formidable will, given that the pickers included not only legends Don Reno, Red Smiley and their band the Tennessee Cut-Ups, but also Bill Monroe himself.
Monroe recorded with Maddox only on the first day of the two-day session. Despite his earlier encouragement, he reportedly had second thoughts about the session and packed up and left after recording just five songs. He was replaced by pioneering female mandolinist Donna Stoneman (of the Stoneman Family), who played on the remaining seven songs.
Of the five songs recorded with Monroe, four were written by him, and the fifth was a traditional tune most identified with him. The material recorded the second day included a couple of Monroe-penned spirituals, along with the now oft-recorded “Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms”, “Each Season Changes You”, Leadbelly’s “Cotton Fields”, Tommy Collins’ “Down, Down, Down” and the Johnny Horton hit “Ole Slewfoot”.
The musicianship is naturally superb, and while Maddox’s raw, boisterous vocals would never be mistaken for high lonesome, her emotional, down-home singing is a good fit for the material. Still, considering the circumstances behind the recording, it’s understandable that the musicians don’t quite gel into an organic unit.
Rose Maddox Sings Bluegrass isn’t one of the great bluegrass albums, but it was groundbreaking and influential in its day, and it remains a credible and at times exciting bluegrass landmark. The new CD reissue features great sound and the original liner notes, along with new, authoritative ones supplied by Rich Kienzle.