As Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are to baseball, as Lambeau Field is to football, so is the Ryman Auditorium to country/bluegrass/folk music.
Having made the pilgrimage to the Ryman four (!) years ago, I have experienced the magic of that hall firsthand, and so I was intrigued to stumble across Rolling Stone’s list of “The Top 10 Albums Recorded at the Ryman Auditorium.”
I assured its authenticity by ensuring that “Circlin’ Back” was on the list and immediately purchased the No. 1 album they listed, “Emmy Lou Harris and the Nash Ramblers at the Ryman” – on vinyl, of course, a crisp two-record set on the incomparable Nonesuch label.
Oh. My. Goodness.
I don’t know what it is about that venue, but it seems to bring something especially grand out of the performers.
I want to mention one track, an instrumental Bill Monroe piece called “Scotland,” a soaring bluegrass anthem with echoes of Aaron Copeland’s “Hoedown” that brings down the house. It’s another addition to the small pile of songs that make me stop what I’m doing and just listen. It’s an amazingly tasty recording.
The whole album is amazingly tasty, performed and produced by folks who sound like there is nothing in the world they would rather have been doing than sharing music they love in that place, at that time.
Sometimes you see a “top ten” list that seems designed to start an argument. In this case, the list is spot-on in the first two entries that I’ve sampled.
I was there when the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and friends recorded “Circlin’ Back,” a celebration of their first 50 years together, and treasure the way the recording captured that wonderful night (my only quibble: They left off “Ripplin’ Waters,” the absolute high point of the show).
And now, I’ve experienced an even more magnificent recording. Emmy Lou and her friends have made quite a handful of visits to my turntable in recent weeks.
(A personnel note: Sam Bush played mandolin and fiddle on both albums. I find he enhances everything he contributes to.)
This was the first album on Rolling Stone’s list; the Dirt Band is seventh. I am truly looking forward to hearing the rest.