january 2009

Blue Hat Records/Koch Records
Produced by David Corlew
Directed by Read Ridley
Running Time: 53 minutes

Filmed on April 25, 2005, at the Ford Theater in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Charlie Daniels' gospel celebration found a whole bunch of outstanding musicians offering moving testimonies of faith in song. The gathering, masterfully steered by Charlie, whose singing is strong and authoritative throughout, is a family affair featuring the Scruggses (Earl, Gary and Randy); the Whites (Sheryl, Cheryl and Buck); and the McCourys (Del, Ronnie and Rob, as well as McCoury band members Jason Carter on fiddle and then-bassist Mike Bub), and Mac Wiseman, who in addition to his famous tenure with the Earl Scruggs Review (also an early home for Charlie), also held forth in an early iteration of the Charlie Daniels Band—so he's family too. One of the highlights, in fact, pairs Mac and Charlie on a brooding version of "What Would You Give (In Exchange For Your Soul)," the two trading verses and harmonizing on the choruses. Charlie rumbles through a foreboding rendition of "The Old Account," singing heartily but also accompanying himself for a verse with some lowdown, bluesy guitar riffing before the full band enters and takes it into a higher orbit preceding a rousing ensemble close. The festivities break into a secular mode after Charlie brings on Gary and Randy Scruggs, then Ronnie McCoury, ahead of an emotional introduction of Earl Scruggs. When everyone's in place, the ensemble tears into a rambunctious "Salty Dog Blues," with Randy, Ronnie and Charlie taking feisty solos on acoustic guitar, mandolin and fiddle, respectively, before yielding to Earl, whose sprightly foray from the top to the lower reaches of the banjo neck elicits a warm smile of appreciation from Ronnie. When Mac Wiseman returns, Earl kicks off a foot-stomping rendition of the Carter Family's "Keep On the Sunny Side." Wiseman's vocal is strong and emotionally rich, and the Wiseman-Daniels-Scruggs trio harmonizing on the chorus is a thing of spiritual beauty. A blue-jeaned Del McCoury makes his first appearance late in the show, adding his keening harmony vocal to those of Charlie, Mac and Earl and taking a couple of verses himself on Bill Monroe's "Uncle Pen" before taking the lead on one of the McCoury band's more dramatic latter-day tunes, Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightening." During this sizzling workout, Jason Carter crafts an emotive solo that reminds us why he stands toe-to-toe with Stuart Duncan as his generation's finest fiddler, while Del delivers a masterful clinic in deeply nuanced vocalizing that heightens the song's dark drama. Appropriately enough, the show ends with Alfred Brumley's "I'll Fly Away," and the assembled throng pretty much does exactly that, especially Earl Scruggs, who follows each instrumental solo with one of his own, picking in an aggressive style that gives new meaning to the song title. As always, when the picking and singing is this strong the set seems to end way too soon. But what's here is choice in every respect and by any standard. Somebody say "Amen!" —David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024