It’s as advertised, a tribute to the original three members of The Carter Family delivered by a family tree full of Carters, spanning five generations of the first family of roots music’s legacy. Scrolling through the list of family contributors is like wading through the begats in the Bible, a musical collective curated by producer John Carter Cash and Carlene Carter, Maybelle Carter’s granddaughter and daughter of June Carter Cash.
The material included here comes from unreleased tracks by Mother Maybelle’s daughters June, Helen, and Anita as well as a home recorded tape from the 1960s used by family members to disseminate news among themselves.
The collection leads off with “Farther On,” featuring patriarch A.P. Carter’s wife Sara on vocals and guitar. Sara and A.P.’s great-great-granddaughter Adrianna Cross contributes vocals along with Sara’s grandson Dale Jett. June Carter and Johnny Cash’s son, John Carter Cash, plays acoustic guitar along with Maybelle’s granddaughter Carlene, June Carter and Carl Smith’s daughter. Jett’s vocal sounds like it could have been recorded nearly 100 years ago standing alongside Mother Maybelle, a seamless fit. Adrianna contributes a signature family twang.
Jett shines once again on “My Clinch Mountain Home,” showing off some Johnny Cash-style vocals alongside Carlene’s additions to Helen and Anita’s original vocals and down-home yodels.
Cash himself is backed up on “Gold Watch and Chain” with wife June and a passel of later generations of Carter/Cashes with some help from Norman Blake on acoustic guitar. As with the other cuts, the generational melding is seamless, family-style harmony done as only blood kin can pull off.
John Prine’s 1972 take on A.P.’s “Diamonds in the Rough” is one of the best outside of the family. Johnny Cash’s 1973 version with Mother Maybelle is stellar, but the version here with Carlene and Jett backing up and swirling around Helen and Anita’s original vocals is pretty special as well, with Jett adding some Johnny echoes to the mix.
On “Worried Man Blues,” John Carter and Carlene are credited with playing “scratch acoustic guitar,” a nod to Mother Maybelle’s technique of playing melody and rhythm on guitar simultaneously, which became known as the Carter scratch.
“Will The Circle Be Unbroken” includes just about the whole Cash-Carter lineage, with nearly 30 participants representing all five generations.
The cut ends with John Carter Cash’s daughter Grace at three months old contributing her part with a little musical yelp.
The record closes with “Maybelle’s New Tune,” her electric autoharp chiming like an old-timey carousel.
The kids have done A.P. and Mother Maybelle proud, not only locking down their musical legacy even tighter but adding to with it with their own handed-down family style with a heartfelt reverence for the original material.