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Sampling Sound System Vol 6:Country

(MIXED MODE CD/AKAI CD‑ROM) Rating: *** 3/5 Stars

Volume six of the Sampling Sound System, Country, is the same as the other CDs in the series in that it comes with about half an hour of audio material sharing the disc space with PC‑readable WAV files and AIFF format samples for the Mac.

Banjo, pedal steel, mandolin, bass, acoustic and electric guitars and acoustic drum loops are the principal instruments featured on this release. The CD is split up into five main sections according to tempo. The first section is at 70bpm and begins with 12 acoustic guitar riffs and licks of between one and two bars in length in the keys of A, C, D and G. Next come the electric guitars, and the phrases and licks fit nicely over the acoustic parts, played in the same order as on the track before. After that it's the turn of the pedal steel to perform its 12 riffs in the same order, so mixing and matching the constituent parts together is not as big a chore as it might at first seem. This pattern is repeated for all the other instruments on the disc, so you could say that this release has 12 'virtual songs' featuring all the instruments in one form or another. Each song has four chordal parts presented at 70, 80, 90, 100 and 120bpm.

Stylistically, the disc covers a good number of familiar country music genres, heavily influenced by twangy bluegrass but also with more folksy and country ballad textures. The playing is of a good standard, but occasionally I had to battle with some of the brighter instruments (particularly the pedal steel) when sampling them, as the top end tended to distort very easily at even the lower monitoring levels. The drumming is very authentic and appropriate to the country music setting, but, to my ears, the kit didn't sound quite as bright or as crisp as I have come to expect from most sample CDs these days. One of the best things about this release for me, however, has to be the interesting and unusual tones of the banjo and mandolin; instruments often neglected by sample CD producers. These days, it's good to hear a set of excitingly performed and produced samples that will doubtless be cropping up in jingles for processed Southern‑fried chicken products before the year is out!

In conclusion, at only £20 each, all the discs in the library are quite good value for money and Country is no exception. There's a definite slant towards the entry‑level user, and the layout of the CD is logical enough to encourage first‑time samplists to delve further into the world of sample CDs. Despite niggles about audio quality in places and the relatively small number of samples you actually get, this is a flexible and, perhaps more importantly, fun CD to work with. Paul Farrer

Sampling Sound System audio CDs £19.95 each; Akai CD‑ROMs £39.95 each. Prices include VAT; add £3 for delivery.

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