Mountain Fever promises and delivers “an unprecedented album project” in I Sang The Song. On the one hand, it comprises an all-star tribute to Mac featuring John Prine, Alison Krauss, Jim Lauderdale, Sierra Hull, Shawn Camp, Junior Sisk, Ronnie Bowman, and other notables. On the other, this is Wiseman’s autobiography told in ten new songs he co-wrote with producers Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz, who spent nine weeks listening to Mac recount his many stories. Finally, the album concludes with the great man singing a duet with Krauss on his second best-known—and here most appropriate—bluegrass hit, “’Tis Sweet To Be Remembered.”
Mac and Curly Seckler have survived to become the grand old men of bluegrass music whose careers have exceeded a remarkable seventy years. Mac, who’ll be 92 in May, seems to have done it all: a 1948 Foggy Mountain Boy and Blue Grass Boy, a notable solo artist who adapted with the times and styles for many years, a recording label executive, songwriter, DJ, and AFM union official. Unfortunately, you learn about only the iceberg’s tip of his amazing life here. I Sang The Song shares a flaw with many literary memoirs; lots about growing up followed by, in essence, “As an adult, I did some cool stuff. The end.” Seven of the ten new titles recount with great poignancy his youth during the Great Depression. The grownup songs take us only into the early 1950s.
What you do get, on the other hand, is a powerful song cycle that explores some critical themes. The lead-off on “The Guitar” explores learning to play and sing. “Simple Math,” the most radio-friendly of the new songs, and “Going Back To Bristol” recount his early years as a DJ and professional musician. “Barefoot Til After The Frost” paints a vivid portrait of childhood during the Great Depression, while “Manganese Mine” makes the exploitation of Appalachian people and natural resources very personal. “Crimora Church Of The Brethren,” the only song that resembles the traditional old-man-looks-back genre, describes religion in the life of a youngster.
I Sang The Song is a strong candidate for Recorded Event Of The Year and essential listening for anyone interested in the history of bluegrass or just great music. (Mountain Fever, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd., Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.)AM