Once a band has been around for about 50 years, they invite, and often celebrate, experimentation with their legacy. Old wine in new skins has been found to charm the masses enough to enjoy the old songs one more time around. When The Moody Blues played with a full orchestra in the 1990s, it was something of a musical event. The lush singing and trippy lyrics meshed perfectly with a band of dozens of layers/players. But could it work in a completely different musical direction - stripped down and down home? Enter Moody Bluegrass - a two-CD compilation of the two earlier single volumes of this idea helmed by producer/mandolinist David Harvey.
This isn't a Moody Blues project per se - although it certainly has their blessing. Lead singer Justin Hayward even put his vocal stamp on one of the tracks. It features some stellar "known" talent, such as Vince Gill on I Know You're Out There and Ricky Skaggs with You and Me. But the songs from the Moodys are the real star. Has there ever been a better concert opener tying artist to fan than Lovely to See You? Harley Allen's vocals tap into how this is at heart just a very simple love song (as are many of them).
Songwriter Hayward has such a long resume of beautiful tracks. And it's wonderful as a listener to reconnect with them in a format that distills the song down to the likely-acoustic setting in which they were written. The radio has largely forgotten The Voice, The Other Side of Life, Ride My See-Saw, and I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band). And if you get Alison Krauss singing harmony occasionally, that's all the better.
One may wince when the most psychedelic songs are attempted, as they do fare best in their original packaging. Will they really try the spoken word Late Lament following Nights in White Satin, with a hillbilly accent? Oh yes, they will. So too, it's hard to picture a porch picker wistfully singing "Timothy Leary's Dead" from Legend of a Mind. But the real beauty of this collection is how the new arrangements don't seek out the chance to be revelatory, but reverent. They don't make you want to forget the old songs so much as remember how great they still are.