Stunning all-star tribute to country music's first dynasty, produced by John Carter Cash As musical legacies go, the Carter Family takes some topping. From an obscure 100,000-watt Mexican radio station, the truly seminal recordings of Alvin Pleasant Carter, wife Sara and cousin Maybelle took country to a whole new coast-to-coast American audience in the '30s. As vocal-harmony innovators, they were as vital to the development of bluegrass as Bill Monroe.

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This Month In Americana

Stunning all-star tribute to country music’s first dynasty, produced by John Carter Cash

As musical legacies go, the Carter Family takes some topping. From an obscure 100,000-watt Mexican radio station, the truly seminal recordings of Alvin Pleasant Carter, wife Sara and cousin Maybelle took country to a whole new coast-to-coast American audience in the ’30s. As vocal-harmony innovators, they were as vital to the development of bluegrass as Bill Monroe. The mainly familial concerns of their output?via rural hymns, spirituals and parlour songs?may carry a whiff of sepia quaintness today, but the uncompromising execution, the emotional rawness, still startles and astounds. As testament to their enduring influence, it’s hard to envisage a stronger line-up than the one assembled here (with the exception of Sheryl Crow, whose “No Depression In Heaven” seems woefully misplaced). Naturally, there’s a direct emphasis on family tradition. AP and Sara’s offspring Janette and Joe Carter?who keep the flame alight every Saturday night by performing at the old Clinch Mountain homestead in Virginia?feature strongly with the knottily wonderful “Little Moses”, as do the late Johnny Cash (“Engine One-Forty-Three”) and wife June Carter (“Hold Fast To The Right”). In this context, it’s easy to appreciate the central role that simple song played in these people’s lives.

Of the non-kin, George Jones serves up a perfectly drizzled “Worried Man Blues”, Emmylou Harris (backed by the Peasall Sisters) a thoroughly lived-in “On The Sea Of Galilee” and Willie Nelson a gnarled “You Are My Flower”. John Prine’s “Bear Creek Blues” rattles like a clapboard church, Shawn Colvin’s “Single Girl, Married Girl” is immaculately rendered by the twin-picking acoustics of Earl and Randy Scruggs and The Del McCoury Band lay high lonesome waste to “Rambling Boy”. Perhaps the finest moments come from unexpected quarters?Marty Stuart’s sublime reworking of murder ballad “Never Let The Devil Get The Upper Hand Of You”, with sitar and mandolin, and the overlapping harmonies of the Whites’. “Will My Mother Know Me There?”, with Ricky Skaggs. If you’ve only room for one country compilation this year, look no further.