Like I've said before, my Daddy always said that if there was more singing and less preaching, he would have gone to church. He was partial to hymns, especially done in the old bluegrass/gospel style with vocal harmonies and I heard a lot of that while growing up. The Blue Sky Boys and Delmore Brothers and Reno & Smiley lit up the console day and night in my home and, until the advent of rock & roll, dominated my musical life. I turned my back on old-timey music when Jimmy Martin hit his peak and country was being shoved aside in many markets by the Top Ten's and Top Twenty's of the late sixties, but once planted, the seed does not want to die. In the mid-seventies, the reissue of many of the old artists on the LP format rekindled my love for that music and it has been with me since.
So when I put Steve Gulley's new CD, Sounds Like Home, into the player, he faced an uphill battle from the start. Stacks of albums by country and bluegrass and old-timey artists preceded that album, most setting the bar very high and a few seemingly beyond reach. I am a critic. I critique. With puffed up chest and resolve aplenty, I slipped on the headphones, ready to pick apart what needed pickin', as my Daddy would have said. Two tracks in, the critic left the room, leaving the kid in front of the console.
Gulley has a bit of George Jones in him, his voice not as strong but as competent. You Couldn't Pay Me To Care ghosts Jones a bit, a fine opener, but by the time you get to The Grand Tour, be ready. With a nod in the liner notes to "my favorite country singer", Gulley gives it just enough to make it what it is—fine tribute to one of the really unique performers in country music. Many artists claim tribute when they sing another's songs. Gulley gives it. With just the music and a bucket of humility, he says, "Thanks, George", and you gotta love him for that alone.
It Ain't the Leaving heads the list of bluegrass tracks, of which there are only a few. Straight-on pickin' with super harmonies highlight the track, reminiscent of the lighter upbeat songs on Dale Ann Bradley's Catch Tomorrow. And if you want classic country, you couldn't do better than My Elusive Dreams, a primo duet with wife Debbie and pure throwback to the best sixties' country had to offer.
Of course, being the child inside the man, I am drawn to the four Public Domain offerings and the one Reno & Smiley track. This is the music which would have drawn Dad to church, but we saw or heard little of it where we lived. Prepare To Meet Thy God, No Not One, Nearer My God To Thee, and All Alone are hymns of the first water, delivered in Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver style, and no wonder what with the excellent musicians involved (too many to list here, trust me). And you know what? Reno & Smiley have been shoved to the back far too long. Gulley's treatment on their "Another Day" brings back the golden days in spades.
Bottom line is there is a lot to like here—vocal bluegrass, pickin, country, hymns. I tried for a short time, but I could not find anything to not like. Steve Gulley, with Sounds Like Home, establishes himself as more than "a member of". He is now That Guy, alongside the Doyle Lawsons and Tim O'Briens and Randy Skaggs of the world. Let us hope there is much more where this comes from.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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