Three decades after their landmark bluegrass and old-time country celebration, Will the Circle Be Unbroken,
the concept remains not only viable but, in the wake of O Brother, Where Art Thou?
's runaway success, as timely as ever. The ongoing projects seem limited only by the depth of the roots music well from which the band draw -- and by the sound of this third expansive installment, that's a mighty deep spring. Vol. III
embraces the blues a bit more directly than did the first two volumes, primarily via Taj Mahal
, who turns in another winning performance of his timeless "Fishing Blues" and a stirring trio rendition of the title track with Alison Krauss
and Doc Watson
. The collection also pulls in Tom Petty
from the rock world for a duet with Willie Nelson
on Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene." Otherwise, Vol. III
is a lot about family, literally: Doc Watson is here with his grandson Richard Watson; Del McCoury brings some bristling bluegrass to the party along with his sons Ronnie and Robbie; co-producer Randy Scruggs' visionary father, Earl, is featured on two cuts, including the Carter Family's "Diamonds in the Rough," on which he accompanies June Carter Cash, whose husband, Johnny, closes out the first disc with a new song, one of the best he's ever written. The hymnlike "Tears on the Holston River" is a moving, poetic account of the death of Maybelle and Sara Carter, set in the shadow of Clinch Mountain, with Cash's ragged, rugged voice revealing sadness, not to mention love and respect, over the passing of these matriarchs. Reveling in bluegrass, blues, gospel, hard country, and folk blues, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band -- along with a host of big-name pals, including Vassar Clements, Jimmy Martin, Dwight Yoakam, Matraca Berg, Emmylou Harris, and Iris Dement -- once again bring together the past and the present without a hitch. This circle not only remains unbroken, it keeps getting stronger.