Picks and Pans Review: Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Vol. Ii
Here's something for those who haven't had a good occasion to shout "Hallelujah!" lately. This joyful, invigorating, generally all-out wonderful country album provides 10 or 15 opportunities to do just that. It celebrates the 23rd year of the NGDB. Original members Jeff Hanna and Jimmie Fadden are now part of a quartet that also includes Jimmy Ibbotson and Bob Carpenter.
The Band has at times drifted into a kind of corporate sound in recent years, always professional but not always exciting. For this album, though, the foursome and producer Randy Scruggs enlisted the help of an all-star guest performer roster that includes Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins, Paulette Carlson, Johnny and Rosanne Cash, John Denver. Emmylou Harris, Levon Helm, John Hiatt, Bruce Hornsby, Roger McGuinn, Michael Martin Murphey, John Prine, Ricky Skaggs and Scruggs's dad, Earl.
More surprisingly, none of these guest appearances is an I'll-show-up-on-your-album-if-you'll-show-up-on-mine token. Johnny Cash (with the Carter Family) sings lead on the lively gospel tune "Life's Railway to Heaven," and Skaggs's high-spirited singing makes "Little Mountain Church House" equally inspirational. Denver's sweet style is used to advantage on the romantic Paul Overstreet—Don Schlitz tune "And So It Goes (with Everything but Love)," while Carlson, lead singer for Highway 101, insinuates her way through the Ibbotson—Sandy Waltner—Carlson song "Lovin' on the Side." In the Duet Acts Made in Heaven Department, Atkins backs Harris on "Riding Alone" and Hiatt and Rosanne Cash make a party out of "One Step over the Line." NGDB does four tracks on its own, including the notable "Turn of the Century." Of the 20 tunes, in fact, only "The Valley Road," on which Hornsby seems a bit listless compared with his own group's version of the tune, is short of ideal.
It's a measure of the enthusiasm reflected in this album that even the title gospel classic is performed with a vigorous sense of involvement—Skaggs's vocal chorus is inspirational enough to make a brick say "Amen"—and the last cut, a perfect coda, is Randy Scruggs's brief but lovely acoustic guitar solo on "Amazing Grace." Let's throw in one more "Hallelujah!" for the sheer fun of it. (Universal)