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Various Artists

The Winding Stream – 2012 (Omnivore)

Reviewed by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.

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"The Winding Stream" is a celebration of the music of The Carter Family and the ways that its music snakes through the canyons and valleys of popular American music. This soundtrack album accompanies the 2015 documentary of the same name in which director and producer Beth Harrington traces the stream from its source in the Appalachian foothills of Maces Springs, Va., until it becomes a raging river in the country music of Johnny Cash and George Jones, and the folk and Americana music of John Prine, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Kris Kristofferson, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Rosanne Cash.

The album includes material from the source itself, the Original Carter Family, and features recordings of "Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow Tree" and "Single Girl, Married Girl" and "Keep on the Sunny Side" that remind us of the transfixing power of the trio; Maybelle's animated guitar strumming and picking drives Sara's mesmerizing vocals in "Single Girl, Married Girl," a song often interpreted - most recently, and quite hauntingly, by The Haden Triplets - but whose original is perhaps never equaled.

Jones captures the underlying gospel quality in "Worried Man Blues" as he turns in a jaunty rockabilly version. Dom Flemmons and Rhiannon Giddens of Carolina Chocolate Drops deliver a version of "Hello Stranger" that comes straight down from the mountains, with spare vocals backed by banjos, creating a down-home, ethereal quality.

No album on The Carters would be complete without "Wildwood Flower," and "The Winding Stream" features the original with Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters. Johnny Cash, who came into the family by marriage to June Carter, croons The Carters' "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" in a recording that includes Rosanne and Rosie Cash. Rosanne Cash closes out the album with a lovely waltz, her version of A.P. Carter's "The Winding Stream."

Several of these songs - Jones', Prine's "Bear Creek Blues," The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Kristofferson's "Gold Watch and Chain" and Cash's "The Winding Stream" - can be found on the 2007 tribute album, "The Unbroken Circle: The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family." No matter, for this soundtrack weaves those tracks wisely among the voices of the Carters on their own original songs. The soundtrack demonstrates once again just how deep the waters of the Carter Family flow.