The Del McCoury Band | Family Circle (McCoury Music)

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The tracks are an interesting selection of material and once you hear what McCoury’s done with them you’ll be won over for sure.

Del McCoury may be the only musician in the business to have performed both with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys and with Phish. He’s probably also the only guy to have played at both the Grande Ole Opry and at Bonnaroo. Did I mention that he’s recorded with Steve Earle as well? What all this means is that Del McCoury is as secure as a man can be in his traditional bluegrass bonafides but he's also more than willing to stretch it out a bit.

Both tendencies are evident on Family Circle which features McCoury on lead vocals and guitar, joined by his sons Ronnie (mandolin) and Rob (banjo) as well as Jason Carter on fiddle and Alan Bartram on bass. The tracks are an interesting selection of material and while some of the songs may not strike you at first as traditional bluegrass material once you hear what McCoury’s done with them you’ll be won over for sure.

The biggest stretch on Family Circle may be "Break Up," a song popularized by Jerry Lee Lewis in 1958 but which sounds great as a bluegrass number as well and gives McCoury a chance to show off his rockabilly vocal chops (complete with that JLL hiccup).

Another unusual choice which turns out to be successful is "I Remember You," a 1941 popular song written by Victor Schertzinger and Johnny Mercer  which (so the legend goes) expresses Mercer's crush on Judy Garland. Well, bluegrass can jerk tears with the best of them and on Family Circle this tune gets an appropriately sentimental treatment including a bit of yodeling. from McCoury. Not what you'd necessarily expect on a song from the heart of the big band era, but it works.

In a more traditional vein, "Sweet Appalachia" and "I'm Justified" show off the band's tight vocal harmonizing while the up-tempo "Bad Day for Love" gives them a chance to cut loose. And in the category of "country music songs with great names" we have "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger?" written by Buddy Miller and Judy Miller. Apparently the answer is yes, and McCoury doesn't sound at all pleased about it.

Other tracks include "Sweet Appalachia" (Alan Johnston), "Prairie Wedding (Alan Knopfler) and "Hello Lonely" which features some fancy fiddling by Jason Carter. Every track sounds natural in the bluegrass idiom, making Family Circle a great introduction to the McCoury band if you're not already familiar with them: if it does nothing else this album should demonstrate to you why they're known as the bluegrass band of the jam band generation. If you're already a McCoury fan then you'll appreciate Family Circle for its polished musicianship and fresh material, making it a worthwhile addition to your collection. A | Sarah Boslaugh

RIYL: Bluegrass Rules!; Can the Circle Be Unbroken; Songs My Dad Loved

 

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