Musicians Against Childhood Cancer
Life Goes On
Rural Rhythm Records
5 stars (out of 5)
By Larry Stephens
Pages could be written about Life Goes On. The front cover tells us, “39 songs & 139 artists.” The two CDs are a musical experience, and one that shouldn’t be missed. These are live recordings made at the MACC festival. (For more on the story behind MACC, visit their website.)
Some cuts are by the artists who regularly perform them on stage. “Little John I Am” is by Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, now one of their standards. The same is true about “Hard Times,” a perennial favorite by the Grascals, just as “Forty Years Ago” is a great song from David Parmley & Continental Divide. The variety of performers is one of the great things about compilations.
But you also get to hear some ad hoc groups and that only adds to the experience. Old friends Paul Williams, Doyle Lawson and J. D. Crowe team up for “Paul’s Ministry,” a song often done by Williams and the Victory Trio. I’ve watched these three bluegrass icons perform together and it’s always a treat. Doyle also teams once again with Russell Moore, Jamie Dailey and Josh Swift for an a cappella version of “Beyond The Sunset For Me” and this is a great blending of voices.
If you like Dudley Connell, he pops up several times. Sally Connell (Dudley’s wife) sings lead, Dudley harmony on Johnny Cash’s “Give My Love To Rose,” accompanied by Adam Steffey, Marshall Willborn and Ron Stewart. Dudley sings lead on Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” along with Randy Barnes and Randy Kohrs, and he also appears in a reincarnation of the Johnson Mountain Boys, along with JMB alumni Tom Adams and David McLaughlin, joined by Jessie Baker, Jesse Brock (on bass!) and Michael Cleveland to sing JMB’s “Goodbye To The Blues.”
This project is also a great illustration of the variety of music that can be heard on a bluegrass stage without sparking arguments (well, not many arguments, at least) about “what is bluegrass?” You have great gospel numbers like “Where The Soul Never Dies” (Josh Willams and Don Rigsby) and “Shouting Time In Heaven” (Kenny & Amanda Smith with Rhonda Vincent singing harmony) to mention just two. You get to hear excellent instrumentals and instrumentalists like Tony Rice and crew playing “Manzanita,” Lonesome River Band playing “Struttin’ To Ferrum” and Sierra Hull & Highway 111 on “Smashville.”
Bluegrass numbers (just listen to them) are pulled from country music: “Give My Love To Rose” (Johnny Cash) and “At The End of a Long Lonely Day” (Marty Robbins), “Tennessee Whiskey” (George Jones) and the heart-touching “Old Violin” (Johnny Paycheck). And don’t overlook “Fraulein,” Bobby Helms’ great hit. Blues? Sure. “I Got A Woman” (Ray Charles) and “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” (Muddy Waters). And there’s pop: “Please Come To Boston” (David Loggins). Of course, these songs have been hopping genre for years, but bluegrass fans seem especially sensitive to labeling.
You get to hear about a relationship with God (a beautiful rendition of “Precious Memories”), loneliness (“I Should Have Called”), the perils of drink (“He Died A Rounder At 21”), mother (“Memories of Mother”), unrequited love (“The Likes of Me,” “Rain and Snow”), secrets (“Forty Years Ago”), a vision of the end (“Old Violin”) and hope in times of sorrow (“Life Goes On” with a symphony of artists on the stage). You even get to pretend you’re at a Grateful Dead concert since “Nothing But A Whippoorwill” has a 3:20 jam lead-in.
Variety, the best musicians and the best singers, and a great cause. Every bluegrass fan should own these CDs.