Moody Bluegrass Two…Much Love

Moody BluegrassBiography

Legendary Nashville songwriter  Roger Miller once wrote about what happens “When Two Worlds Collide,” but even though, at first glance, the progressive British rock of the Moody Blues and the all-star bluegrass lineup paying tribute to that music may seem worlds apart, the harmonious results, Moody Bluegrass Two…Much Love, prove they’re really parallel universes.

The late ‘60s was an incredibly creative time for music on both sides of the Atlantic. In the world of rock, singles had given way to concept albums and the stations airing on that new radio technology – FM — were playing complete LPs. For The Moody Blues, who’d first topped American charts with such hits as “Go Now” (1964) and “Nights in White Satin” (1967) it meant that their classic albums like In Search of the Lost Chord (1967), Days of Future Passed (1968) and To Our Children’s Children’s Children (1969) were getting unprecedented airplay and finding a huge audience in the States, just as fellow Brits like The Who did with Tommy, The Rolling Stones with Their Satanic Majesties Request, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and of course, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

But in the world of bluegrass, there was a whole other revolution going on. Bill Monroe’s musical vision was evolving, as veteran bands like The Osborne Brothers and Jim & Jesse & The Virginia Boys “went electric,” bringing folk, pop and rock material into the bluegrass repertoire and causing the same sort of controversy at bluegrass festivals as Bob Dylan famously had at the Newport Folk Festival when he traded his Gibson flattop for a Fender Strat. Younger groups like The Country Gentlemen, The Dillards and The Bluegrass Alliance, the last of which featured a teen-aged Sam Bush and Tony Rice, took things a few steps further still.

Along with repertoire, that innovative era expanded instrumental techniques and vocal harmonies in a progressive bluegrass movement that thrived through the ‘70s. While Sam Bush was on the cutting edge of the former with Bluegrass Alliance and New Grass Revival, Harley Allen, with his family group The Allen Brothers and his father, bluegrass great Red Allen, was doing the same with vocals and songwriting.

By the ‘80s, bluegrass had returned to its roots, polyester and electric basses giving way to tailored suits and acoustic uprights, as banjo pickers dropped chromatic excesses for a revival of classic Scruggs style.

The Moodies also found a middle ground in the ‘80s, returning to the charts and starring on MTV with tighter, carefully crafted hits like “Your Wildest Dreams” (1986) and “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” (1988), songs that tempered the band’s classic prog-rock with a modern pop sensibility.

But, even from the very start, the Moodies and their bluegrass admirers were not so far apart. Moody bassist John Lodge says the Moody Bluegrass projects take him back to his skiffle days, playing acoustic folk music on streetcorners when he was a kid. That was the start for most of those first generation British Invasion bands, including the Beatles, who famously got their starts as a skiffle group called the Quarrymen. And even in the heights of The Moody Blues’ psychedelic glory, strummed acoustic guitars formed the bedrock of their sound.

Given all that, it’s no wonder those two worlds came together so beautifully on the first Moody Bluegrass album. And after helming the first, producer and multi-instrumentalist David Harvey knew exactly what he wanted for the second.

Moody Bluegrass Two…Much Love

Moody Bluegrass… Two Much Love, is simply more of everything that made Moody Bluegrass such a moving album, such a powerful combination of the deeply evocative songs of the Moody Blues with some of Nashville’s finest pickers and singers, this time including the most honored man in contemporary country music, Vince Gill. Like the other Nashvillians on the project, Vince has deep roots in bluegrass (including a stint with the aforementioned Bluegrass Alliance while still in his teens) and his opening track, “I Know You’re Out There,” teams him with one of the best harmony singers around, GRAMMY-winning producer Carl Jackson. The song also introduces the Moody Bluegrass Band, with David Harvey on mandolins, Tim May on guitar, Andy Hall on resonator guitar, Andy Todd on bass and Barry Crabtree on banjo. Daniel Carwile fills out the sound with his one-man string section, wizardry he repeats throughout the album.

Tim O’Brien brings his trademark wit to Ray Thomas’ “Dear Diary,” putting a very Nashville bluegrass spin on it with a recitation that namechecks Bluegrass Unlimited, “The Cherryholmes family” and Phonoluxe, one of Nashville’s favorite record stores. Engineer John Caldwell expertly channels Nick Forster for his harmony vocal debut, but for Moody Blues fans, the highlight here is the presence of two founding Moodies – flutist Ray Thomas and keyboardist Mike Pinder (who left the group in 1978) playing a vintage mellotron, the Moodies’ signature synthesizer.

“Meanwhile” has special meaning for producer David Harvey, as it features his boyhood friend, the late Harley Allen, one of the best and most underrated bluegrass singers of our time, in one of his very last recorded vocals. Written by Justin Hayward and featuring his rhythm guitar, it keeps the family feeling with background vocals by Harley’s wife Debbie Nims Allen and David’s wife Jan Harvey. Justin and Harley developed a close friendship after the first Moody Bluegrass project and the pair performed together several times in Nashville, shows that featured as much humor as music and that inevitably included Harley’s request that Justin play one of his most famous songs – “Nights in White Castle.”

Mike Pinder’s “Dawn is a Feeling” brings in one of the best and most innovative bluegrass singers – Peter Rowan – who joins forces with The Settles Connection, framed by the album’s most complex arrangement of strings and mandolins.

Justin Hayward takes the lead vocal spotlight for his “It’s Cold Outside Of Your Heart,” a country-flavored song that would sound at home on today’s charts, thanks in large part to the stellar fiddle work of bluegrass veteran and tie-dyed-in-the-wool Moodies fan Glen Duncan.

“You and Me” features Ricky Skaggs, bluegrass’ all-time most commercially successful artist, whose clear, high voice has spanned award-winning bluegrass, country, country-rock, pop and gospel recordings. He gets to touch all those bases here, in a fast-moving Moodies song with a deeply spiritual feel.

“Say It With Love” puts a new spin on the Moody Blues sound with Jan Harvey’s lead female voice bringing a new perspective to that classic. “Blood harmony” is a longstanding bluegrass tradition – no one sings together like family – and Jan is featured in a trio with her sisters Jill Crabtree and Teresa  Steed. The song is made even more special by Aubrey Haynie’s great fiddling. This is Jan’s feature, but David Harvey says his wife is the unsung hero of the entire Moody Bluegrass Two… Much Love project, calling her his “co-producer,” a title she modestly refuses.

Moody John Lodge takes the lead on the uptempo “Send Me No Wine,” featuring still one more master fiddler, the great Stuart Duncan.

“The Story in Your Eyes,” another Moodies classic, is given soulful bluegrass treatment by  Ronnie Bowman, in a powerful trio with John Cowan and David Harvey.

Ray Thomas’ “Nice To Be Here” features one of bluegrass’ most consistently creative forces, the King of Telluride, the Father of New Grass, Sam Bush, who joins with his old bandmate John Cowan and the equally iconoclastic Russell Smith, the Amazing Rhythm Ace who is also one of Nashville’s most respected songwriters. It’s a whimsical child’s song about an animal jamboree that sounds like a British Disney cartoon.

That song shows the childlike innocence that was at the heart of the psychedelic rock movement. David’s daughter Emma Harvey (just 8 years old at the time) also brings that quality out beautifully, making her lead vocal debut in “Voices in the Sky.”

“Have You Heard” is another Mike Pinder song, this one featuring the vocal of Larry Cordle and Carl Jackson, who also makes a rare appearance on banjo, the instrument that first brought him national fame on the old Glen Campbell Good Time Hour. The track also features Stuart Duncan.

Moody member Graeme Edge sings his “Higher and Higher”, featuring Duncan’s Moroccan-textured strings and Marcia Campbell’s footwork percussion.

“Tuesday Afternoon” is a certified classic, on the Top 10 of every Moodies fan. It gets spectacular treatment here with John Cowan’s lead voice, backed by producer/songwriter/singer Jon Randall and Jan Harvey’s soaring high baritone, underpinned by the fluid banjo of Alison Brown.

“Highway” brings Jon Randall’s voice to the fore, with a shock-and-awe backup vocal army that features a bluegrass trio with Jan and David Harvey and a multi-voice choir including The Settles Connection.

“Lost Chord” is the David Harvey/Tim May-penned instrumental coda, a tribute to The Moody Blues’ classic album, In Search of The Lost Chord, as well as a homage to all heartfelt musical and spiritual quests. That chord once was lost but now is found, as this chapter in the ongoing Moody Bluegrass saga comes to a close.

With Moody Bluegrass Two… Much Love, the worlds of bluegrass and progressive rock don’t collide, they combine to create that chord, finding common ground in perfect harmony.

Track Listing

1. VINCE GILL – I Know You’re Out There (4:31)

2. TIM O’BRIEN: Dear Diary (3:53)

3. HARLEY ALLEN: Meanwhile (3:57)

4. PETER ROWAN: Dawn Is A Feeling (4:04)

5. JUSTIN HAYWARD: It’s Cold Outside Of Your Heart (4:03)

6. RICKY SKAGGS: You And Me (3:46)

7. JAN HARVEY: Say It With Love (3:57)

8. JOHN LODGE: Send Me No Wine (2:19)

9. RONNIE BOWMAN: The Story In Your Eyes (3:10)

10. SAM BUSH: Nice To Be Here (4:07)

11. EMMA HARVEY: Voices in the Sky (4:02)

12. LARRY CORDLE: Have You Heard (3:40)

13. GRAEME EDGE: Higher and Higher (5:26)

14. JOHN COWAN: Tuesday Afternoon (4:45)

15. JON RANDALL: Highway (4:56)

16. TIM MAY & DAVID HARVEY: Lost Chord (3:25)

Produced by David Harvey.