I'm a big fan of the show. It has been four years since I got into Bluegrass, and I have given some thought to this topic. I am going to presuppose a few things:
1) The beginner is looking to dive head-first into the genre
2) Only CDs will be used, as that is the current standard (no LPs, 8-tracks, Cassettes, etc.)
3) Compilations (Best of an artist, record company, and bluegrass)
4) Double CD sets count as one album
5) Created mix CDs cannot be used (otherwise, I would pick 150-200 great songs)
Okay, enough with the setup, here are my ten:
1) Time Life's Treasury of Bluegrass, Vol. 1: Pound-for-pound, this album (2 discs) has the best collection of Bluegrass songs ever compiled. It features four of Bill Monroe's top singles ("Blue Moon of Kentucky", "Footprints in the Snow", "New Mule Skinner Blues", and "Kentucky Waltz"), three of Flatt & Scruggs ("Foggy Mountain Breakdown", "Cabin on the Hill", "Ballad of Jed Clampett"), along with assorted hits from Mac Wiseman, Jimmy Martin, the Stanley Brothers, Ricky Skaggs, Larry Sparks, the Osborne Brothers, and many more. It was my first album, and it was a home run.
2) Bill Monroe Anthology by: Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys: Bill Monroe is the Grandfather of Bluegrass, and while Time Life's Volume 1 has many of his singles, this album (2 discs) completes the collection.
3) Essential Flatt & Scruggs: 'tis Sweet to be Remembered by: Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs & The Foggy Mountain Boys: This album (2 discs) serves the same purpose as the Bill Monroe Anthology.
4) You Gotta Dig a Little Deeper by: Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver: Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver puts on one of the most fantastic shows in Bluegrass, and the proof is in the music. This album is fantastic, featuring great tracks in "You Gotta Dig a Little Deeper", "Heartbreak Number Nine", and "What Ain't to be, Just Might Happen". You can't pass this gem up.
5) J.D. Crowe & The New South (Rounder 0044) by: J.D. Crowe & The New South: Let's see, J.D. Crowe, Rick Skaggs, Tony Rice, and Jerry Douglas, several years after having Doyle Lawson leave. If you looked up "supergroup" in the dictionary this band's picture would be next to it. The album opens with The Old Home Place. That is enough for me. Although, I want the copy of the album with J.D. giving "the bird" and not re-shot cover.
6) Brand New Strings by: Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder: One of the best albums from Bluegrass's prodigal son is Brand New Strings (with Bluegrass Rules! coming in a close second). Skaggs and the band really shows off their range with slow and serious songs ("Love Does it Every Time" and "Spread a Little Love Around"), fast and fun songs ("Brand New Strings" and "Sis' Draper"), as well as instrumentals ("Appalachian Joy" and "Corinthians 1:18). This album is stacked from top to bottom.
7) Grass Roots: The Best of New Grass Revival by: New Grass Revival: This album (2 discs) shows the listener how Bluegrass made the transition from traditional to contemporary, with the mandolin of Sam Bush leading the way. Great band, great tracks, great compilation, 'nuff said.
8) Will the Circle Be Unbroken? by: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (et. all): This is one of the greatest albums (2 discs) of all time, featuring some of the greatest names in Bluegrass and Country music, recording some of the best Country and Bluegrass standards of all time. And the sum of this album's parts are not greater than the final product.
9) It's Just the Night by: The Del McCoury Band: What collection would be complete without some Del McCoury? This album contains seven addicting tracks, including country crossover hit "My Love Will Not Change", and the creepy title track. With love songs such as "Zero to Love" and "Asheville Turnaround" it becomes an instant classic. But the real story here is Del's unique voice. The first time I heard him, I thought he was the Bluegrass clown (like Cledus T. Judd, Ray Stevens, or "Weird" Al Yankovic), but after I listened to the lyrics, I realized what a treasure he is. This album is in.
10) Force of Nature by: Mountain Heart: This album is an album of the future. This is where Bluegrass will be in 10-20 years. Mountain Heart plays an extremely fast version, which I like to call "Fastgrass" (anything as fast or faster than "The Foggy Mountain Breakdown"). They play a breakneck style that will keep your toe tapping for hours afterward. They are on the cutting edge, and they are what I believe Bluegrass will be in the future.
That was my list. I know it is quite a bit of reading, but I think it is pretty good. There are some omissions (A Stanley Brothers compilation, Time Life: Treasure, Vol. 2, and several others). It is hard to pick just ten great albums. Also, these are in no particular order of importance. I hope this is to your liking. Thank you for your time, and have a g'day.