Then, disc two opens when Twain was a celebrated international author at the height of his fame and fortune. But quickly, the tone changes as we hear the stories of his daughter Suzy’s death, about the decline and passing of his beloved wife Livy, and how his writings darkened in the later years. There’s far less humor here. History, of course, is history--both the spoken material and the musical selections illustrating this period must reflect what actually happened. It’s not the production here that brings the listener down, but rather the events themselves. It’s here where the music really contributes to the experience, reminding us that we all share the same emotions Twain suffered in his saddest years.
No doubt, there will be those who complain about what was left out of this condensed version of a very complicated life. Some will feel that the choice of performers draws from a limited range of musical genres, and there’s no inclusion of any music the Clemens family might have heard themselves back in the 19th century. But no endeavor of this scope could be all inclusive, and little of the new music was intended to represent popular melodies of the times. Still, on one level, educators will appreciate this collection as an obvious means to connect with students in the classroom. Country fans will enjoy this sampler of current stars sharing the stage in this aural tribute to an important American author.
Beyond these audiences, anyone interested in learning a bit about American history, learning something about the “Lincoln of our letters,” or just being entertained by this multi-faceted story should enjoy this gathering of contemporary personalities lending their talents to a good cause. The proceeds from the sales of this nicely produced collection will help preserve the Mark Twain Museum. For the money, you get the two discs and a 40-page booklet containing all the narrative and song lyrics, along with the knowledge you’re contributing to keeping the story of Twain alive for future generations. Listen to that story, and you’ll know why it is worth it.