John Bowman’s last solo gospel recording was one given entirely to the songs of Joe Isaacs. This time, Bowman casts his song net a bit wider, mixing together a couple of traditional tunes—“God’s Not Dead” and “Summer’s Gone (My God Made It All)”—with songs both old or contemporary. None are what you would call standards. Many have a contemporary edge, such as “Above All,” “Have Your Way,” “Miracle Today,” and “In My Father’s Eyes.” Several have an older feel, including Russell Easter’s modal-style “I’m On The Last Mile,” and the gentle James A. Crutchfield song, “Zion’s Hill.”
Having cast his net wider, Bowman chose to focus our attention on the power of the message by limiting the backing to just his solo guitar and solo voice. Short of performing a cappella—which he does solo on the aforementioned Russell Easter song—nothing focuses the mind on the words better than limited, simple accompaniment. The guitar also provides a welcome coloring and mental pause. Such bare-bones approach requires a high level of skill (vocally and instrumentally) and that, as anyone familiar with his work knows, Bowman has. He is both a high, pure singer and a talented instrumentalist. He varies the backing by ranging from finger-picked arpeggio to Travis-style playing on “God’s Not Dead” to ornate Mother Maybelle-style to gentle strumming and Tony Rice flatpicking/backing. There are no real barnburners, most of the tunes are slow and medium tempo, but “God’s Not Dead” and the Rice-style accompaniment of Tammy Griffin’s “Zion’s Shore” have a bit of uptempo zest.
Each will find certain styles and tunes here that speak strongest to them. For me, that was the older sounding pieces—“God’s Not Dead,” “Zion’s Hill,” “I’m On The Last Mile,” and “Summer’s Gone.” It is those, along with “Zion’s Shore,” that highlight this gospel recording. (Crossroads Music, P.O. Box 829, Arden, NC 28704, www.crossroadsmusic.com.)BW