I was very pleased to get a big envelope in the mail from Rebel Records. It was a review copy of High Fidelity’s new CD Music in My Soul – their all gospel new release.
Hopefully you’ll remember a bit over 3 years ago, right at the beginning of the Covid doo-dah, when I gave a rave review to the band’s last project Banjo Player’s Blues. Music in My Soul is even better. Probably because their confidence has been strengthened by the good reception they got over the past few years. Perhaps it’s because of their deep spiritual conviction. This is bluegrass EXCELLENCE – in harmony singing, guitar runs, banjo pickin’, fiddlin’, arranging, etc.
Band personnel remain the same: Jeremy Stephens on banjo and guitar, his wife Corrina Rose Logston on fiddle, Kurt Stephenson on banjo and guitar, Daniel Amick on mandolin and guitar, and Vickie Vaughn on the upright bass fiddle (Vickie also a member of the band Della Mae). Everybody sings at one time or another.
Their music is whip-cracking sharp and enjoyable. Fresh air billows from each cut. Once again they have mined bluegrass, country and gospel archives to come up with old numbers that sound new (especially when given the High Fidelity treatment). There are no gospel “warhorse” numbers. The few songs I had heard before elsewhere, are given a new reading by High Fidelity.
Musical styles include a Chuck Wagon Gang style quartet arrangement featuring Vickie’s crystalline soprano. There are sprightly pure-bluegrass arrangements in the spirit of Reno & Smiley, featuring terrific Reno-style banjo breaks (their specialty!) as on “I Need the Prayers of Those I Love”. “Power in the Blood”, a fine gospel oldie from 1899, is rendered here as an INSTRUMENTAL of all things. And yes, there’s a bit of High Fidelity’s trademark twin banjo playing by Jeremy and Kurt on Randall Hylton’s “My Lord is Taking Me Away”. The band here presents their first original composition by Corrina Rose – “The Mighty Name of Jesus” which evokes the Louvin Brothers’ peppier numbers. Jeremy and Corinna’s duet often reflect the Louvin influence – they sometimes even perform as “The Stephens Brothers” in a mandolin-guitar duet.
Other sources for the uplifting tunes on this CD (whether from the pen or the repertoire) include bluegrasssers, Ralph Stanley (Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn), the Brewster Brothers, Carl Story/Jimmy Martin (“My Lord Keeps a Record”), the Lewis Family, and Jim & Jesse (“Are You Lost in Sin”). As a kid, I must say I never liked the Stanley Brothers’ record “Darkest Hour” as being much too slow, dull and depressing. Here, after a surprising Don Reno banjo intro, Vickie turns loose in a powerful theatrical voice (with vibrato) and belts out “The Darkest Hour” with outstanding harmony support. Impressive! Older “hillbilly” sources include the Bailes Brothers’ “We’re Living in the Last Days Now”.
There’s nothing droopy or mopey about any of High Fidelity’s gospel music. Their hearts, and their joy in the musical ministry portion of their program, tend to make one smile rather than ponder.
I’ll add one more thought; as “hot” as these pickers are (and they are VERY hot when they want to be), they know how to restrain themselves when performing gospel songs. I’ve always found it a bit distasteful when bluegrass performers constantly insert their bluesiest or hottest licks into every break on a sacred number. Very little of that here. Like Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs they know that an occasional impressive lick can be permitted to “jump out” at the listener but remain within the bounds of reverence. But High Fidelity gives each song such punch and brightness from their attitude that we don’t feel like they are holding back. Perhaps this is a small point, but I highly appreciate their respect for the songs.
As always with 21st century Rebel releases, the photos (by Amy Richmond), liner notes (Corinna Rose and the great gospel bluegrasser Paul Williams), crisp recording quality (engineered by Mark Howard at The Tractor Shed in Goodlettsville TN) and package design are top drawer.
A really fine, SPIRITED gospel project with a generous 14 songs that all bluegrass fans should enjoy. One of my long-standing criteria for a new recording is “Do I want to learn any of the songs or licks I hear on this record?” Music in My Soul offers plenty of musical instruction and inspiration! I imagine you can sense my enthusiasm for High Fidelity. They are without question, my favorite “new” bluegrass band, because of the excellence of their traditional approach.
Rebel CD 1879