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2002 brought the final release of the Dirt Band's incredible Will the Circle Be Unbroken trilogy and also brought together the band and a bevy of country stars to celebrate these historic collaborations. That PBS event is here on DVD (with Rosanne Cash, Alison Krauss, Earl Scruggs and more) plus 6 CDs comprising all three Unbroken volumes. Scores of amazing performances, one amazing set.
The original Will the Circle Be Unbroken is undoubtedly a landmark country-music recording. A peace offering between rock-reared longhairs and rock-ribbed Nashville patriarchs (and one matriarch, Mother Maybelle Carter), it exposed generations of upstart pickers and singers to old-time country music and its impact is felt to this day. The organizers of the 1971 sessions that led to the initial three-LP set, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, have produced two sequels, the first in 1989 and the most recent in 2002. This six-disc collection (including an all-star concert DVD) pulls together all three Circle sessions and, naturally, captures dozens of essential performances, plus a fair number of inessentials. Anyone with an interest in country music will want the original. Its mission is clear, the performances are inspired, and its significance is undeniable. The second Circle strays far afield from the original concept, bringing in the rather lightweight likes of John Denver and Michael Martin Murphy to mix with volume one holdovers Jimmy Martin and Earl Scruggs. The final volume is also more diffuse than one would like, though eminent guest stars such as Del McCoury, June Carter Cash, and Johnny Cash help it capture the spirit of the original more frequently than does its immediate predecessor. Completists will relish having all three collections in one box, while those who think three times around the circle is two too many are advised to stick with the 30th anniversary reissue of the initial album. --Steven Stolder