Country musicians, be they alternative, traditional, or neo-traditionalist, never tire of singing praises to the Carter Family. Heck, even the occasional rocker will say a few kind words about the Carter legacy. With this type of enthusiasm, there's never a bad time to put together a tribute album like The Unbroken Circle. The album is packed with VIPs like Emmylou Harris, George Jones, Sheryl Crow, and Willie Nelson, and it even includes no less than three Cashes (Johnny, June Carter, and Rosanne). Despite this impressive list, The Unbroken Circle gets a very rocky start with lukewarm efforts by Jones, Crow, Harris, and Johnny Cash. Jones and Cash sound fairly rough, and Harris' outing, backed by the Peasall Sisters, is underwhelming. Crow's appearance on a country record is somewhat surprising, and perhaps it was meant to add a little pizzazz to the disc. Unfortunately, she sings "No Depression in Heaven" as though she were auditioning for Freakwater. While the album never quite recovers from this early stumble, there are bright spots after those first four songs. Marty Stuart offers a truly superb version of "Never Let the Devil Get the Upper Hand of You," filled with creepy ambience and a fine vocal, while Janette and Joe Carter's take on "Little Moses" sounds more old-time than the Carter Family. There are solid offerings by Nelson, John Prine, and the Del McCoury Band before everything comes to a crash landing with the less polished contributions of June Carter Cash and Kris Kristofferson. While fans of the artists on this compilation may want to check it out, there are better Carter Family collections (Bristol by Ginny Hawker and Kay Justice and Songs of the Carter Family by Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin), and there's always the option of listening to the Carter Family themselves.
AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.