Will the Circle Be Unbroken [Bonus Tracks]
Not to take anything away from the deserved success of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were there first -- in 1972 -- accompanying a staggering assembly of bluegrass and traditional country giants on Will the Circle Be Unbroken, which featured songs associated with the Carter Family, Roy Acuff, Merle Travis, and Jimmy Martin. Earl Scruggs sat in on banjo and took the lead on two of his own originals, "Flint Hill Special" and "Earl's Breakdown," plus the traditional instrumental "Soldier's Joy." Also on hand were Mother Maybelle Carter, fiddler Vassar Clements, guitarists Norman Blake and Randy Scruggs (Earl's son), Dobro player Pete "Oswald" Kirby, bassist Junior Huskey, and Doc Watson, who sang and picked. This Hall of Fame cast produced a powerful, exciting, and durable album. Highlights include Mother Maybelle's plain, potent voice packing an emotional punch on "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes," Acuff's soul-piercing cry on "I Saw the Light," Travis's slick pickin' and genial vocal on his "Nine Pound Hammer," Clements's searing fiddle work on "Lonesome Fiddle Blues," and Watson being his irrepressible self, vocally and instrumentally, on the rollicking "Way Downtown." The studio banter -- particularly Acuff's -- is priceless. Will the Circle Be Unbroken is even more of a landmark than O Brother, and its long-overdue release on CD is not merely a welcome arrival but a spiritual blessing.