While some might consider Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, and Buck Owens to be country pioneers, the music's roots run much deeper than the honky tonk of the '50s and '60s. Country Pioneers offers two songs each from a dozen performers who played essential roles in building country music's foundation. The collection begins with Fiddlin' John Carson in 1923, at the dawn of recorded rural music, and works through Hank Williams, whose music would help launch a new country music era. Uncle Dave Macon recounts the joys of country cuisine in "Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy," while Jimmie Rodgers yodels away his lonesomeness in "Jimmie's Mean Mama Blues." The Carter Family reminds everyone to "Keep on the Sunnyside" despite untrue lovers ("Wildwood Flower"), while Bob Wills' band cheerfully extols the virtues of the "New San Antonio Rose" (though one wonders what became of the old San Antonio Rose). Bluegrass is given the nod by the inclusion of Bill Monroe and the cowboy by way of Gene Autry. While few listeners will recognize the influence of Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers on Garth Brooks, the themes of home, love, and excessive alcohol intake have remained a constant. Several lesser-known figures like Kelly Harrell and Cliff Carlisle also make appearances, and this is one of the strengths of the collection. Country Pioneers paints a vivid musical portrait of what country & western looked like before 1950, making this enjoyable listening experience also educational. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.