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MUSIC REVIEWS: New bluegrass releases

BILL EMERSON & THE SWEET DIXIE BAND, "Bill Emerson & The Sweet Dixie Band," Rebel. 15 tracks.

"Legend" may be the most over-used word in the entertainment industry. But what else do you call a man like Bill Emerson?

Emerson, who turns 70 in January, has become one of the most influential banjo players this side of Earl Scruggs in a 52-year career that began with Uncle Bob & the Blue Ridge Partners in 1955.

Two years later, Emerson joined with the late Charlie Waller and others to create The Country Gentlemen, one of the top acts in bluegrass.

In 1959, he began moving around. First, the Stoneman Family. Then, Bill Harrell, Red Allen, Jimmy Martin and Cliff Waldron's New Shades of Grass.

It was with Waldron in 1968 that Emerson's banjo turned Manfred Mann's folk-rock song, "Fox on the Run," into a bluegrass classic.

He returned to the Gentlemen in 1969 for four years and then began a 20-year career in the U.S. Navy, leading the Navy's bluegrass band Country Current.

The Sweet Dixie Band is really group of friends who gathered with Emerson to make this album of new and old songs.

Lead singers include Scott Linton, Paul Williams, Con Burch, Pete Goble, Brad Corbin, Randy Waller, Darren Beachley, Mark Newton, Wayne Taylor, Frank Solivan II, Andy Ball and Gary Ferguson.

Musicians in the band include Joe Wheatley, Pat White, Dudley Connell, Dave Miner, Ray Legere, Jimmy Gaudreau, Tony Rice, Barry Tuttle and Michael T. Cash.

It's an all-star project headed by a man who has earned the title "legend."

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VARIOUS ARTISTS, "Songs 4 Worship: Country," Time Life. 16 tracks.

With Ricky Skaggs, Marty Raybon and Diamond Rio on board, you might think "Songs 4 Worship: Country" would feature a little bluegrass.

But you'd be wrong.

This is mostly a contemporary Christian country album. No bluegrass in sight.

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