These are prime times for the few, hard times for the many - especially those with rural addresses. That's the message carried by this collection, bluegrass-heavy but with stops for honky tonk and rock-shaded country, overseen by Del McCoury. It's a point made with no shades of gray on the John Harrell-penned, McCoury Band-delivered title cut and Merle Haggard's "What Happened?" from last year's "Bluegrass Sessions." And it's one presented more subtly--and, arguably, more effectively--on first-person character-driven songs like the Haggard-Marty Stuart collaboration "Farmer's Blues," Haggard's 1973 hit "If We Make It Through December," Patty Loveless's scarred-soul take on Darrell Scott's "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive" and Chris Knight's brilliant "A Train Not Running."
Of the tracks listed above, only "Moneyland" is a new recording, one of five included in the set. The best among those ranks is "Breadline Blues 2008," an all-star updating of a Bernard "Slim" Smith song from the '30s, which finds McCoury, Mac Wiseman, Tim O'Brien, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings swapping verses. Like its brethren, the song airs grievances and observations. But embedded in its final verse is hope for a fairer future if we work together. And underscoring that spirit of optimism and cooperation is a hidden track, "All Aboard" from 2001's Del and the Boys, with patriarch Del, his voice at its most keening and urgent, imploring us to get on board.