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Unbroken Circle: The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family

The Unbroken Circle: The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family

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The Carter Family songbook remains a touchstone of descriptive writing and finely wrought scenes of rural mores and life in the hereafter. Produced by John Carter Cash with the same captivating, all-acoustic, roots-rooted sensibility he brought to his mother, June Carter Cash's, final two albums, The


The Carter Family songbook remains a touchstone of descriptive writing and finely wrought scenes of rural mores and life in the hereafter. Produced by John Carter Cash with the same captivating, all-acoustic, roots-rooted sensibility he brought to his mother, June Carter Cash's, final two albums, The Unbroken Circle assembles a generation-spanning roster of 15 artists who effectively demonstrate the truth of the album title: These songs connect everyone to something fundamental in their collective marrow, no matter their age. Hence George Jones checks in with a rhythm-infused, rockabilly-tinged version of "Worried Man Blues," and Sheryl Crow is filled with the gospel spirit on "No Depression in Heaven," but the two performances fit together beautifully, like chapters in a good novel. Emmylou Harris, with the Peasall Sisters supplying positively ethereal harmonies, sends up a keening version of "On the Sea of Galilee." John Carter's mom and dad do themselves and their ancestors proud too, with Johnny Cash rumbling out with a craggy "Engine One-Forty-Three" and June Carter Cash both tender and forceful while imparting parental wisdom to a child on his life's journey in "Hold Fast to the Right" (with Johnny harmonizing on the choruses). The gentle guitar and mandolin accompanying Rosanne Cash's lilting version of "The Winning Stream" gives the tune the flavor of an 1890s parlor song. A.P.'s daughter Janette, steadily strumming Autoharp, is joined in harmony by Joe Carter for a rustic version of "Little Moses." Willie Nelson, accompanied only by his own gut-string acoustic, transforms "You Are My Flower" into a western-style ballad, and the Del McCoury Band put a lively bluegrass spin on "Rambling Boy." Everyone, take a bow. The performances are uniformly exemplary, the songs forever resonant.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Ronnie D. Lankford
Country musicians, be they alternative, traditional, or neo-traditionalist, never tire of singing praises to the Carter Family. Heck, even the occasional rocker will say a few kind words about the Carter legacy. With this type of enthusiasm, there's never a bad time to put together a tribute album like The Unbroken Circle. The album is packed with VIPs like Emmylou Harris, George Jones, Sheryl Crow, and Willie Nelson, and it even includes no less than three Cashes (Johnny, June Carter, and Rosanne). Despite this impressive list, The Unbroken Circle gets a very rocky start with lukewarm efforts by Jones, Crow, Harris, and Johnny Cash. Jones and Cash sound fairly rough, and Harris' outing, backed by the Peasall Sisters, is underwhelming. Crow's appearance on a country record is somewhat surprising, and perhaps it was meant to add a little pizzazz to the disc. Unfortunately, she sings "No Depression in Heaven" as though she were auditioning for Freakwater. While the album never quite recovers from this early stumble, there are bright spots after those first four songs. Marty Stuart offers a truly superb version of "Never Let the Devil Get the Upper Hand of You," filled with creepy ambience and a fine vocal, while Janette and Joe Carter's take on "Little Moses" sounds more old-time than the Carter Family. There are solid offerings by Nelson, John Prine, and the Del McCoury Band before everything comes to a crash landing with the less polished contributions of June Carter Cash and Kris Kristofferson. While fans of the artists on this compilation may want to check it out, there are better Carter Family collections (Bristol by Ginny Hawker and Kay Justice and Songs of the Carter Family by Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin), and there's always the option of listening to the Carter Family themselves.

Product Details

Release Date:
Dualtone Music Group


Album Credits

Performance Credits

Nancy Blake   Acoustic Guitar,Cello,Vocals
Del McCoury   Acoustic Guitar,Vocals,Group Member
Ricky Skaggs   Acoustic Guitar,Vocals
Marty Stuart   Mandolin,Vocals,Electric Sitar
Sam Bush   Mandolin
Johnny Cash   Vocals,Background Vocals
Rosanne Cash   Vocals
Emmylou Harris   Acoustic Guitar,Vocals
Kris Kristofferson   Acoustic Guitar
Willie Nelson   Acoustic Guitar,Vocals
Shawn Colvin   Vocals
John Prine   Acoustic Guitar,Vocals
Pat McLaughlin   Acoustic Guitar,Mandolin,Percussion
Buck White   Mandolin,Piano,Vocals,Group Member
Sheryl Crow   Acoustic Guitar,Vocals
John McEuen   Acoustic Guitar,Banjo
Larry Campbell   Acoustic Guitar,Fiddle,Background Vocals
Bob Carpenter   Accordion,Background Vocals
June Carter Cash   Vocals
Dennis Crouch   Acoustic Bass
Jeff Hanna   Acoustic Guitar,Vocals
Jimmy Ibbotson   Electric Bass,Vocals
Ronnie McCoury   Mandolin,Background Vocals,Group Member
Tim O'Brien   Bouzouki,Vocals
Randy Scruggs   Acoustic Guitar
Harry Stinson   Drums,Background Vocals
Kenny Vaughan   Acoustic Guitar
Cheryl White   Vocals,Acoustic Bass,Group Member
Janette Carter   Autoharp,Vocals
David Jacques   Electric Bass
Jason Wilbur   Electric Guitar,Background Vocals
Sarah Peasall   Vocals,Group Member
Hannah Peasall   Vocals,Group Member
Leah Peasall   Vocals,Group Member
Joe Lee Carter   Vocals
Laura Cash   Acoustic Guitar,Fiddle
Lorrie Carter Bennett   Background Vocals
Dale Jett   Acoustic Guitar
Jimmie Faddon   Harmonica,Drums

Technical Credits

Sheryl Crow   Producer
A.P. Carter   Composer
Fred Remmert   Engineer
John Carter Cash   Producer,Liner Notes

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The Unbroken Circle: The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The greatest of American songbooks gets another run-through from a variety of country music luminaries, and the results, unsurprisingly, are very good. In addition to four Cashes (Johnny, June Carter, Roseanne and producer John Carter), the album sports tracks from George Jones, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Ricky Skaggs, and many others. Like most such collections, it's not uniformly fine (nor, even in its fineness, uniform in how it achieves its quality), but there's a lot of great music here. ¶ Jones kicks off the album with a wonderfully loose take of "Worried Man Blues," buoyed by a deft, bluesy combination of guitars, bass, fiddle and drums. Sheryl Crow follows with over-the-top yowling on "No Depression in Heaven," and Emmylou Harris warbles somewhat unsteadily with the charming Peasall Sisters for "On the Sea of Galilee." From here, the album picks up with Johnny Cash's nearly-spent reading of "Engine One-Forty-Three" and really hits its stride with Marty Stuart's creepy march-time arrangement of "Never Let the Devil Get the Upper Hand on You." ¶ Additional highlights include Norman and Nancy Blake's string-rich (guitar, cello, bouzouki, fiddle, autoharp) "Black Jack David," John Prine's acoustic rockabilly "Bear Creek Blues," The Whites' (with Ricky Skaggs) "Will My Mother Know Me There," and Roseanne Cash's "The Winding Stream." Kris Kristofferson and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's close the album with "Gold Watch and Chain," successfully pitting the former's craggy voice against the latter's polished acoustic picking and smooth harmonies. ¶ These aren't definitive renditions (for that, original Carter Family recordings can be found), but like the Dirt Band's "Circle" albums, the reinvention and handing-down found among and between these generations say as much about the music as the songs themselves.