I suppose it's not surprising I'm frequently in Dutch for my oft baffling love of good Jesus music while being an atheist who damns the advocacy of abnegative behaviors in regard of the Christos. Jesus, after all, was, along with Socrates, one of the West's greatest anarchists and a nonpareil in Humanist morality, the ex-rabbi who attempted to reform the Jewish faith…to a reward we know only too well. He is in fact, and this drives my radical buddies insane, one of the models for my life, though I take a VERY different view of the gentleman than anyone I've ever met. Too, I've read more of the Bible than many so-called Christians—most of whom are actually Constantinians anyway—and one of the quotes I treasure most in all of literature, from Voltaire to Schopenhauer to Shakespeare, is taken from that tome: "For in much wisdom is much grief, and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow" (Ecclesiastes 1:16), as profound an observation on temporal existence and consciousness as any I've found in zen, taoism, and ch'an.
I possess a pretty hefty collection of Christian rock LPs (Petra, Wes King, Second Chapter of Acts, Phil Keaggy, Steve Taylor, The Imperials, Keith Green, Resurrection Band / Rez Band, etc.), and the first consideration in selecting any new addition is always the music, the music, the music. If that isn't top-notch, then I move on, and when it comes to bluegrass, it's exceedingly rare to find a disc that isn't well done; bluegrass musicians and singers are very sincere people, and that's where the Larry Stephenson Band comes in, as this quartet is dead-on, sparkling, inspiring, and drenched in the old values. They all sing, they all play, and as singers, their harmonies are deadset on the money; as players, every note counts but nothing gets in the way of the vocals, which always stand out, front and center.
My favorite cut here is Born Again because it perfectly balances all the elements necessary to this sort of music: the highest level of vocal sonorities, pristine instrumentals, a perky upbeat tempo raising the heart and mind rather than casting them into sorrow (which is perfectly fine elsewhere), and an attitude allowing Humanists and others to share the mindset posited, that yearning for redemption, that elusive wisp of hope whilst dwelling on a planet that seems a good deal more hellish than should be the case. How Great Thou Art follows thematically in suit but more thoughtfully…yet…good lord, those vocals! When I joined FAME years ago, it was precisely this sort of material I was looking for, and Rural Rhythms and PineCastle (presently unhappy with my work) being the ne plus ultra, this disc matches 'em in every respect…and a lot of the credit for that also goes to engineer, mixer, co-producer Ben Surratt and his superb technical talents.
Let me put this in perspective: if you dug the hell out of all the cool music that popped up on the Andy Griffith Show, especially when the boys from Mount Pilot showed up, then this is for you (and I suggest you latch onto the Grascals' 2011 tribute disc as well [here]) 'cause it perfectly, gracefully, and more than once exuberantly extends an unusual period in the history of America, an era which embodied an ethos we still don't fully understand on the Left, the Right, or the Center, religiously nor philosophically. 'N if'n yew don't give a goldurned dingadang 'bout that kinda philimosophicalanimous shtuff, Jeeter, thet's hokay too, 'cause the musical values alone are more than sufficient to light a fire in yore britches 'n prompt ya to hightail it down to the local record shop—or CD Baby or Amazon or any o' them newfangled dealiebobbers—to nab a copy.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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