|"If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." John 15:5|
Those words, attributed to Christ, are meant to inspire devotion and dedication to the Christian faith and serve as a warning of the complacency that will lead to spiritual degradation. For over 20 years now, Dry Branch Fire Squad has been making fine bluegrass gospel music that serves their name well, delivering 11 albums and featuring 14 different members over the years. Their release of Memories That Bless and Burn is something of an abbreviated re-cap of all those years and some of those different lineups. Featuring sixteen tracks, with eleven having appeared on previous releases, four of which have been reworked here in different versions, this collection can be viewed as a retrospection that reveals the band has changed very little and has, if anything, even stronger group harmonies today.
More than anything, those harmonies are what place the group within the upper echelon of their genre and remain the truly exceptional feature of their music. Evidenced by the six a cappela tracks on Memories That Bless and Burn, their four part harmonies are extremely rich and expressive, with lead vocalist Ron Thomason and his supporting cast boasting some expertly controlled hollering and moaning. True gospel fervor colors tracks such Looking for the Stone, which when compared to the previously recorded alternate version that follows it, shows just how much the group has grown, and various others like the impassioned Dip Your Fingers in Some Water are fine examples of the passion with which they present their work. To be sure, not many artists can cover a Louvin Brothers song and make it shine like the original, as in Travel, Travel On.
Of course, Dry Branch Fire Squad's instrumental ability cannot to be overlooked, either, with the breakneck picking on The Gospel Way and the impassioned Hide You in the Blood, as well as the foot-tapping I Have Found a Way. The songs themselves are rock solid and extremely infectious. A sleepless night during which my mental CD player was stuck on repeat is a reminder of just how much so. Many moods are represented here, never allowing the listener to get bored for a second, passing from the mournful and poignant opener, penned by guitarist Suzanne Thomas, that shares the title of the disc, to more upbeat tracks like That Home Far Away and the achingly beautiful Were You There? In short, this is really good stuff: exceptional musicianship and sincere, authentic delivery that will have both sinner and saint singing the praises of talents at work here. Obviously, the members of Dry Branch Fire Squad are devoted and dedicated to their craft. The music here does not appear to be destined for the flames any time soon.
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Edited by: Jonathan Colcord