First Listen: Orthophonic Joy

A modern take on country classics

In 1927, a producer from the Victor Talking Machine Company arrived in Bristol, Tennessee, and recorded seventy-six songs that would help launch a genre. As Ralph Peer’s recordings of such local talents as Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family traveled over the airwaves, they spread previously unheard mountain melodies far and wide. “It became known as the big bang of country music,” says Leah Ross, the executive director of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Virginia.

In tribute to the groundbreaking Bristol sessions, the museum worked with some of today’s biggest names in country music to assemble Orthophonic Joy,  a brand-new album featuring the likes of Dolly PartonMarty StuartVince GillEmmylou Harris, and Steve Martin. Producer Carl Jackson whittled the original recordings down to eighteen of the most memorable, chosen in collaboration with the artists. “I had originally reserved ‘The Storms are on the Ocean’ for Dolly Parton,” Jackson says. “But when I played ‘When They Ring Those Golden Bells,’ she said, ‘That’s the song! I’ve been singing that all my life, and that’s the one I want to do.’”

With between-track narration from Eddie Stubbs, who has been the voice of the Grand Ole Opry for two decades, the album is a fitting salute from one generation of country musicians to another, and a reminder that the genre hasn’t necessarily strayed as far from its roots as some might think. “It was a social outlet then, and it still is today,” Ross says. “People get out their instruments and tell their stories, about hardship or happiness or anything else.”