Review: Various Artists – Moody Bluegrass Two: Much Love (Bunny Rae, 2011)
Nearly seven years ago, amid a flurry of bluegrass tributes to pop music, mandolinist David Harvey created a surprisingly irony-free tribute to the Moody Blues. With talent that included Sam Bush, Larry Cordle, Stuart Duncan, and Alison Krauss, the high quality of the performances was a given, but the ways in which Harvey and his troupe transformed symphonic prog-rock into acoustic string band arrangements was nearly alchemical. The second volume of this project returns Harvey to the producer’s seat alongside several players from the first outing and an all-star lineup of vocalists that includes Vince Gill, Tim O’Brien, Peter Rowan, Ricky Skaggs and the Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward, John Lodge, and Graeme Edge.
With most of the band’s hits covered on volume one, this second helping digs deeper into the album sides. The set’s most recognizable tune is 1968’s “Tuesday Afternoon,” sung by John Cowan, with tight harmonies from Jon Ranall and Jan Harvey, and Harvey’s mandolin-related instruments providing filigree in place of Mike Pinder’s original mellotron. There are a few more mid-charting U.S. singles (“The Story in Your Eyes,” “I Know You’re Out There,” “Say it with Love”), but some of the collection’s best numbers include the album track “Dawn is a Feeling” from Days of Future Passed, the UK hit single “Voices in the Sky” (given a charming lead vocal by Havey’s then eight-year-old daughter, Emma), and odds ‘n’ sods, such as the non-LP “Highway.” Jon Randall provides a particularly fetching vocal on the latter, supported by a choir and rolling banjo from Alison Brown.
The Moodies reprise several of their original vocals, but hearing Justin Hayward sing “It’s Cold Outside of Your Heart” (from The Present) to an acoustic backing liberates the song’s country heart from its original mid-80s production. Others, like John Lodge’s “Send Me No Wine,” find their folk style reinforced by the string band. The album closes with the only non-Moody track, an original instrumental titled “Lost Chord” on which Harvey salutes the band’s third album, In Search of the Lost Chord, and swaps gentle solos with Andy Hall (dobro), Tim May (guitar), Brian Christianson (fiddle) and Alison Brown (banjo). The song list draws from across the band’s catalog, and as on the first volume cleverly parlays prog-rock into prog-string band.