Friday, 9 October 2009

Will the Circle be Unbroken

Okay....the weekend's upon us again. Actually, I tried my best to feel perkier at the beginning of the week but my mood couldn't improve after that little bitty about international roaming in Korea. With your Significant Other remaining out of touch for five days in a row, well, you can either mop about her absence or try to make the most out of it.

Obviously, as I'm not the one to wallow in any self-pity (yet) I tried the second approach, the best I could, and my best was to immerse myself with my brand of music which was any genre under the sun except perhaps rap. About 10 to 15 years ago, one of my ex-colleagues at BHL Bank, Wan Zailan, used to joke that the only rap music she ever learnt was to "wrap, wrap, wrap" the nasi lemak. That was our "Ah Lan Cheh" in the bank.

Anyway, about a month ago, I was listening to some bluegrass/country music and in particular, to this landmark album by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. At that time, as the NGDB was trying to solidify their reputation as a country band, they travelled to Nashville, Tennessee to record the triple album, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, with Nashville veterans such as Roy Acuff, Earl Scruggs, Jimmy Martin, Mother Maybelle Carter, Doc Watson and many others. The album's title came from the song, Can the Circle Be Unbroken (Bye and Bye), and reflected the attempt to bridge the styles of two generations of musicians: long-haired boys from California and older members of the American country music establishment. They succeeded.

When 1989 came around and the NGDB returned to Nashville, they recorded the follow-up album Will the Circle Be Unbroken Volume Two. This time, the band members were already established musicians in their own right and no longer playing second fiddle (sic) to any of the old veterans. Returnees from the first Circle album included Scruggs, Acuff, Martin and Vassar Clements, while the personalities joining the Volume Two sessions included Johhny Cash and the Carter Family (notably his wife June and daughter Rosanne), Emmylou Harris, Levon Helm (formerly of The Band), John Denver, John Hiatt, Bruce Hornsby and both Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman (formerly of The Byrds).

I acquired this second-hand record quite recently and it came as a big jolt when I saw it. Someone had actually sold it off, not knowing its musical value. So now, it's safely kept together with the first volume. There's a Volume Three too, released in 2002, but I doubt it was ever released as a record. I may just decide to buy the compact disc, in order to complete the trilogy.

Here are the tracks on this double album:

Side 1: Life's Railway to Heaven, Grandpa Was a Carpenter, When I Get My Rewards, Don't You Hear Jerusalem Moan, Little Mountain Church House
Side 2: And So It Goes, When It's Gone, Mary Danced With Soldiers, Riding Alone, I'm Sitting on Top of the World
Side 3: Lovin' on the Side, Lost River, Bayou Jubilee, Blues Berry Hill, Turn of the Century
Side 4: One Step Over the Line, You Ain't Going Nowhere, The Valley Road, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Amazing Grace

Featuring prominently on Volume Two was Mark O'Connor who played the fiddle on many of the tracks. When he was younger, he was already acclaimed as a musical child prodigy and grew up being a virtuoso on the violin, guitar and mandolin. Unlike Clements who tended to be flamboyant on his fiddle and freer with his interpretations, O'Connor had a calmer and stiffer approach.

This is not the first time that I've come across O'Connor's music. Although he is known as a bluegrass and country fiddler, he is also well known as a classical music violinist. As an example, he had been collaborating with Edgar Meyer (bassist) and Yo-Yo Ma (cellist) on two occasions. Appalachian Journey is one of the compact discs in my collection. Truly inspirational stuff...just the three of them creating a whole new kind of classical music that was tinged with and influenced by the sounds and structures of America's own musical traditions. Music from the Appalachian mountains.

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