march 2012

On Life Goes On, recorded live at the Musicians Against Childhood Cancer festival, Danny Paisley gives a performance for the ages on Marty Robbins’s ‘At the End of a Long Lonely Day.’ This photo is from the 2010 MACC festival.

All About The Healing

By David McGee

Various Artists
Rural Rhythm

On Saturday evening, November 25, 2000, 22-year-old Amanda Lynn “Mandy” Adkins died of brain cancer at her home in Galena, Ohio. In high school she was a cheerleader, track athlete and sang in the choir. After attending Columbus State University, she began working as a dental assistant and was a volunteer at Grady Memorial Hospital. During her eight months of treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Mandy’s parents, Darrell and Phyllis Adkins, were at their daughter’s side. Following their daughter’s death, and having seen firsthand the brave efforts of the St. Jude’s staff and the patients’ fighting spirit, Darrell and Phyllis founded “Musicians Against Childhood Cancer,” a non-profit annual charitable event from which proceeds would go to benefit the treatment of children with life threatening illnesses.

mandy adkins
Mandy Adkins

The first fruits of the Adkins’s labor were realized in the IBMA’s 2006 Album of the Year, Celebration of Life, recorded live at the Musicians Against Childhood Cancer festival and featuring the top names in bluegrass and roots music. Six years later comes another chapter in the Adkins’s efforts in a new multi-artist double-CD Life Goes On, again a live effort from the aforementioned festival. Impossible as it sounds, this second volume is even more overpowering than its predecessor. As John W. Tewell reports in his liner notes, the album features 39 songs recorded by no less than 139 stellar artists, some with their regular bands, some in configurations singular to this outing. Appropriately, the music brims with life—even the searing breakup ballad, “Across the Great Divide,” sung with knee-buckling intensity by Josh Williams in a deeply nuanced performance, overflows with feeling, even if the feeling is heartbreak. One thing for sure: if you cue up Disc 1’s opening track, the (reunited for this occasion) Johnson Mountain Boys’ “Goodbye to the Blues,” you will be promptly blown away by the fury of Michael Cleveland’s opening fiddle blast, which is strictly of the jaw dropping variety; it’s actually a prelude of 30 seconds’ duration, followed by a quick pause before the band comes in at more deliberate pace to set up Dudley Connell’s muscular lead vocal, which in turn gives way to some cool solos, especially David McLaughlin’s tasty mandolin excursion slightly past the halfway mark. About the time you’ve caught your breath when that’s done, Doyle Lawson teams up with Jamie Dailey, Russell Moore and Josh Swift for a stunning a cappella rendition of Lawson’s triumphant gospel testimony, “Beyond the Sunset For Me.” Presumably no one will be surprised that Bill Monroe has an honored position on this collection, being represented by more tunes (three, all on Disc 1) than any other artist here. Among the most potent of the Monroe covers is a hard driving version of “Six Feet Under the Ground” by Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, driven by Jeff White’s forceful lead vocal and tough solo turns courtesy Jesse Brocke (mandolin), Jesse Baker (banjo), and of course the indefatigable Cleveland himself.

From the Musicians Against Childhood Cancer festival of 2011, the reunited Johnson Mountain Boys cut loose on ‘Let Me Rest at the End of My Journey’

It’s not all fireworks, though; indeed, some of the reflective moments are the most memorable. Here we have to consider another Monroe tune, “Highway of Sorrow,” a deep, despairing mea culpa sung by a gent whose philandering cost him a happy home and fruitful marriage. Selling this sad story with utter conviction and shame is an all-star lineup of Junior Sisk and Larry Stephenson (lead and tenor vocal, respectively), Bryan Sutton (guitar), Alan Bibey (mandolin), Aaron McDaris (banjo), Brandon Rickman (bass), Randy Kohrs (sparkling on dobro) and, really laying on the ache, fiddler Aubrey Haynie. Accompanied solely by Clay Hess on guitar, Bradley Walker serves up a vivid, rich reading of Bobby Braddock’s end-of-times scenario, “Revelation,” which never fails to generate goosebumps—especially when rendered in such stark, doom-laden terms—even when you know the trick ending is coming. With the sensitive, understated backing of Hunter Berry on fiddle and Mickey Harris on mandolin (in addition to her own guitar), Rhonda Vincent gets deep inside a love song, the public domain “The Water is Wide,” and does more than justice to its poignant, poetic expressions of enduring commitment, her keening, plaintive voice, minimally adorned, conveying a lover’s deep wells of trust and faith in her significant other.

At the MACC festival 2010, Lonesome River Band performs ‘Carolyn The Teenage Queen’

And that’s only a taste of Disc 1. Disc 2 announces itself with Tony Rice’s exotic “Manzanita,” supported by Josh Williams on mandolin, Aubrey Haynie on fiddle, Rob Ickes on dobro and Aaron Ramsey on bass. Rice’s opening guitar solo has the crowd cheering less than a minute into the six-and-a-half-minute-plus rendering, and that’s before anyone else joins the party. Needless to say, it only gets better as these masters pick up the pace, take their solo turns and lend the tune heightened evocativeness with their instrumental conversations. Sierra Hull gives a virtual master class in fine mandolin picking when she opens “Smashville” with a stirring minutes’ worth of fleet-fingered soloing ahead of a seamless handoff to her Highway 111 banjo man Justin Moses, with fiddler Christian Ward and guitarist Clay Hess adding their distinctive instrumental voices to the rambunctious proceedings before it comes back to Ms. Hull, who takes it into quieter terrain before breaking into a full-on lope at song’s end. This disc arguably has the most interesting selection of songs, ranging from Muddy Waters’s “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” (supplanting Chicago blues with mountain soul, Dudley Connell, Randy Kohrs and Randy Barnes simply tear it up) and Johnny Cash’s aching “Give My Love to Rose” (with a rich, crying vocal by Sally Connell, accompanied by Dudley Connell, Adam Steffey, Marshall Wilborn and Ron Stewart) to Jerry Reed’s “The Likes of Me” (a loosey-goosey, bluesy thumper given a mountain flair by the Randy Kohrs Band with the band leader contributing a fierce lead vocal as well as his usual captivating dobro atmospherics) to Marty Robbins’s “At the End of a Long Lonely Day” (in one of the most compelling performances on either disc, Danny Paisley delivers a lead vocal so full of abject despair and roiling emotions it would be painful if it weren’t so beautifully crafted in every shading; the magnitude of his sorrow is enhanced by his band Southern Grass’s steady, restrained support). Add to this Larry Cordle and Michael Cleveland’s mournful take on Johnny Paycheck’s “Old Violin”; Marty Raybon & Full Circle’s haunted backwoods blues rendition of the Harlan Howard heartbreaker, “The Water So Cold”; and the great James King’s awe inspiring interpretation of Ralph Stanley’s moving “Memories of Mother,” with Russell Moore and Dudley Connell joining him in soul piercing, anguished high harmony and Ralph Stewart sending forth a profound cry on his fiddle.

This too is but a taste of all the abundant wonders recommending Life Goes On. Though proceeds from sales of this CD benefit a most worthy cause, you might well discover this music offering a value-added component in being a salve to your weary soul. Give generously, and heal thyself.

Life Goes On is available at

Click here for information about the 2012 Musicians Against Childhood Cancer Festival

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024