I’m pretty sure that the Hudson Valley has fewer Christian Bluegrass fans than other parts of the country, but I’m sure I’m not the only one here who loves gospel bluegrass songs. And if you’re on the fence – you like gospel or sacred harp but you’re worried about over the top bible-thumping or the kind of intolerant Christian lyrics that we all fear – this may be the album for you. While there’s plenty of old testament God-fearing lyrics, for the most part these are light, optimistic, loving lyrics sung to perfect old-time harmony.
My favorites are “On the Jericho Road,” which has a jolly call and response format combined with heart-piercing harmonies and a comforting message of not being alone; and Ralph Stanley’s “Who Will Sing For Me,” which is just a lovely song, in the tradition of “Oh Death” and “Hick’s Farewell” a sort of melancholy acknowledgment of death’s approach. I also love the title track, which is Christianity at it’s most superstitious AND optimistic. I also just love Bill Carlyle’s “Gone Home” – it is plaintive in the absolute best sense of the word.
“Who Will Sing For Me”
I found A.P. Carter’s song “Give Me the Roses” to be very interesting: a plea to be given flowers, and, more importantly, encouragement, during our life times rather than wasting these gifts on the deceased. The theology is interesting, the harmonies as sweet and optimistic as ever.
I love their rendition of Molly O’Day’s “Coming Down From God” even if the version by Hazel Dickens, Carol Elizabeth Jones and Ginny Hawker is a little tighter and sweeter. Still, that’s an awfully high bar to clear.
I know that not all of you will want an album of all gospel songs, but for those of you willing to consider this genre, this is one sweet, harmonious, optimistic collection. If you’re familiar with Jim and Jesse and the Virginia Boys this shouldn’t surprise you.
Jim and Jesse McReynolds are joined on this album by Raymond McLain on the banjo, Mike Drudge on guitar and vocals, Glen Duncan on fiddle, Roy Husky on acoustic bass, Mike Stevens on harmonica, and Tom Ewing on bass and vocals.