CD Review: The Chuck Wagon Gang – No Depression In Heaven

Through their CD, No Depression In Heaven” the Chuck Wagon Gang (CWG) pays tribute to traditional gospel selections performed by the iconic Carter Family.  While I’ve heard great gospel harmonies by others like the Oakridge Boys, this album brought me to appreciate the history, longevity, and achievement of a much earlier group that, with various members over the years, has promoted and performed since 1935. That’s when D.P. “Dad” Carter, the patriarch of another Carter clan in Lubbock, Texas, gathered his son and two daughters to create the original Chuck Wagon Gang.  

Current members include owner and manager Shaye Smith, granddaughter to the original alto Anna “Effie” Carter, joined by excellent singers Melissa Kemper (soprano), Stan Hill (bass) and Karl Smakula (tenor). Smakula also plays guitar accompaniment for the group with skills that belie his West Virginia background steeped in bluegrass since age 11.

“The Old Gospel Ship”

The songs are timeless, performed with precision and beauty. Blending into one harmonic sound, they’re also clear and balanced enough to distinguish each voice. The themes are heartfelt and speak to faith and confidence in a better life both now and in that afterlife felt by true believers. There’s a great cross section from the conviction in “Am I Soldier of the Cross” to the happiness of “The Old Gospel Ship”, and, of course, the title tune that says it all. If preserving the history and tradition of this musical style was limited to but one performing group, the Chuck Wagon Gang would easily meet that challenge–and this latest CD proves it. 

John Nowak

Growing up in New England, John began a career as a social worker and ended as an administrator for a non-profit learning center near Fort Lauderdale promoting financial literacy and workforce development. He retired in 2016 but also works part time at North East Community Center managing a Farmers Market and overseeing programs that support local agriculture and food pantries. His gospel bluegrass exposure grew deeper during 3 years of weekly jam sessions conducted by the Tucker Brothers--musicians, music teachers, and co-pastors at Tropical Sands Church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

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