Merlefest Live! The Best of 2003
(Merlefest/Welk Music Group)
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2004, Volume 11, #6
Written by John Metzger
What started in 1988 as a benefit concert for Eddy Merle Watson — who died three years earlier in a farming accident — has become one of the premier Americana music festivals in the country. Merlefest Live! The Best of 2003 culls material from the 16th edition of this multi-day celebratory tribute, mixing newcomers like Donna the Buffalo and Mountain Heart with legends such as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ralph Stanley, and Eddy’s father Doc Watson. Despite its outstanding line-up, however, the album features very little in the way of cross-pollination among acts. In fact, save for fiddler Hunter Berry’s participation with both Rhonda Vincent & The Rage and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver as well as an all-star jam session featuring Sam Bush, Béla Fleck, Tony Rice, Peter Rowan, Jerry Douglas, Vassar Clements, Mark Schatz, and Bryan Sutton, the remaining selections are all self-contained and straight-forward. Yet, the most surprising notion about the set is that while all of the performances are expectedly solid, none are truly transcendent, and they frequently fail to move the artists beyond their respective studio recordings. Even the aforementioned convergence of talent manages to deliver only the bluegrass cliché Orange Blossom Special, making Merlefest Live! The Best of 2003 more of a concert souvenir than a grand collection of highlights.
Merlefest Live! The Best of 2003 is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box