The collection Country Faith Bluegrass moves something within my heart. Many of the songs included with this release are, quite simply, performed poetry. Others are more tightly tethered to dogma but even those moments are never heavy-handed. Despite my lack of a religious background in my own life, however, the clear faith inspiring both the musical and singing performances on this album will touch all but the most cynical. These songs are not attempting to advance an agenda; they, instead, are much more personal while still hitting an universal note many listeners will relate to.
Vince Gill’s “All Prayed Up” is an excellent choice for the album opener. The upbeat pace of this track sends Country Faith Bluegrass rushing out of the gate. It’s a track dating back to 2006 but sounds as if Gill recorded it hours before the album’s release. Every component bristles with life. “In the Sweet By and By” is one of marquee tracks included on this fourteen song compilation thanks to its status as a previously unreleased recording and Dolly Parton’s presence on vocals. Parton’s skill with traditional material such as this isn’t as well-known as her pop and country music gifts, but she thoroughly takes over the performance. Her vocal has a respectful tone, without a doubt, but there’s an underlying confidence behind the singing that her longtime fans will recognize. She brings a signature quality to everything she does.
The storytelling strengths of Marty Raybon and Jerry Salley’s “My Future Ain’t What It Used to Be” are among the staples of the genre’s best work. It is a story virtually every listener can relate to in some way and, even if you can’t, you’ll enjoy being drawn into its narrative. The narrative thrust is an unifying element of the collection’s best songs and “Working on a Building” continues in this vein. Dale Ann Bradley and The Issacs are exceptional here and blend bluegrass with blues. The results are impressive and make it one of my favorite songs on the release.
Joe Mullins and The Radio Ramblers check in with the album’s longest cut. A nearly five minute version of The Stanley Brothers’ iconic “Rank Strangers” may mislead you that something has seriously ran off the rails before listening. An initial pass through the song reveals that Mullins adds a relatively lengthy spoken word section onto the cut. Reactions to this will, undoubtedly, be divided. It places a heavy burden on a brief song packed with meaning and I wonder if expounding on its origins dilutes its power in some ways. Casual listeners likely won’t care much for this interlude.
“Daniel Prayed” keeps the focus squarely on the music and vocals. Patty Loveless and Ricky Skaggs are one of those instantly combustible pairings that makes listeners rue it didn’t happen sooner. The latter is an experienced hand at this sort of music with a bevy of accomplishments and awards to his credit but Loveless is effortlessly fluent with bluegrass and its demands. “Drifting Too Far from Shore” is one of my favorite bluegrass numbers and Darin and Brooke Aldridge serve us one of the best renditions I’ve heard in many years. The slow and steady evolution of the song, critical to making it work, comes across without fail. It has a hushed, deliberate luminescence that draws you closer. The same warmth is present through Country Faith Bluegrass and gives it rare power.