A Bluegrass Gospel Songbook
*** (out of 4 stars)
Label: Rounder Records
For a few weeks now I’ve been returning again and again to a new album that combines some of the best contemporary bluegrass artists with some of the best traditional gospel songs. The album is titled A Bluegrass Gospel Songbook (released by Rounder Records). When I first heard this collection of gospel classics, I wanted to wait until this week to share the news about it. Why? Because I enjoyed it so much I wanted to listen to these tracks over and over again. The other reason was about timing this review — for anyone who is having family or friends over for Easter brunch, this might provide the perfect soundtrack to your event. Besides, Easter or not, it’s always a good time to purchase a near-perfect bluegrass compilation.
To preview (or purchase) this album on iTunes, click here.
The disc features 13 songs from a well-chosen group of contemporary bluegrass artists, including J.D. Crowe, Tony Rice, Dailey & Vincent, Ricky Skaggs and The Grascals. The collection of bluegrass gospel songs include “Wayfaring Stranger,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “River Of Jordan” and “Amazing Grace.” It’s a great introduction to some singers and musicians you may not already be familiar with. My personal favorite is “The Model Church,” performed by Bluegrass Album Band (track 9).
The album covers the breadth of bluegrass music (from close harmony singing to instrumental fiddling, plucking and picking) that you’d expect from such a dependable label as Rounder Records. These are songs that brought church to the mountains, and they have an abundance of the pristine sincerity that comes with authentic bluegrass gospel. With its emphasis on the shared stage for each instrument (and with the players offering musical support to each other, so that there everyone gets their chance to shine) there’s no more appropriate music than bluegrass to embody a gathering of family and friends. These are songs that will last as long as artists as fine as these are sharing them.
If the album isn’t perfect, it’s because there are a few more Rounder artists that I wish were represented here. I would also have loved if the CD had at least one track that wasn’t lifted from a previously available album (maybe a live recording, even). But in case you missed out on them when they were first released, here’s a chance to add a fantastic sampler of who’s making bluegrass these days. These are songs that will last as long as artists as fine as these are sharing them. Enjoy.
1. Crying Holy – J.D. Crowe & the New South
2. Gospel Plow – Nashville Bluegrass Band
3. Power in the Blood – Weary Hearts
4. Wayfaring Stranger – Tony Rice
5. Hewed Out of the Mountain – Phyllis Boyens
6. Garden in the Sky – James King
7. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot – IIIrd Tyme Out
8. Give Me Jesus – The Grascals
9. Model Church – Bluegrass Album Band
10. River of Jordan – Rickey Skaggs
11. Wondrous Love – Blue Highway
12. I’ll Be No Stranger – Dry Branch Fire Squad
13. Amazing Grace – Dailey & Vincent