The 120 tracks on these five CDs constitute a group of Eddy Arnold songs with which few people under the age of 50 could be familiar -- only about a half-dozen of them ever appeared on LP, much less CD. Recorded between 1944 and 1950, they represent his rise to country stardom (but not yet to pop stardom), and also the evolution of country music in the period immediately after the war. His performances on the early sides were heavily influenced by the work of Gene Autry
, but they were much closer to hillbilly music, with thin, twangy guitars and fiddle. With the help of producer Steve Sholes
, Arnold and his group (the Tennessee Plowboys) achieved a fine, lean sound that was a good compromise between hillbilly authenticity and commercial country music. Disc Two, covering 1947-48, shows Arnold consolidating his earlier success, and acquiring a greater range in the process. Disc Three shows Arnold's voice mellowing into the fine instrument that it became as he later emerged into pop stardom; his low range is richer, and he reaches those high notes more easily. This was all of a piece with making Arnold accessible to the widest possible audience; what no one realized at the time was that Arnold was helping to change country music in the process. While Disc Four shows Arnold moving toward an ever more mainstream sound, Disc Five has a number of religious songs that come off extremely well -- largely due to the quality and sincerity of Arnold's singing. By this time, Arnold's voice had evolved into a wonderfully polished baritone, turning him into almost a countrified Bing Crosby
. The sound is excellent, and the notes are extremely informative, although there is relatively little about the recording sessions themselves. The booklet is filled with wonderful photos as well.