Rural Rhythm Christian

For forty years and nearly forty albums, the quality of the gospel music experience offered by the legendary Marksmen Quartet has been among the best in the genre. This latest finds them with the same lineup as in 2007 and, most importantly, still among the best in the field.

Mark Wheeler takes the lead vocal role predominantly on this recording, opening with his co-written (with Lance Carpenter) title song, a declamatory shouter on the willingness he and his friends have about testifying to their religious faith. As openers go, they don’t come much better. The forward propulsion, spiritually and physically, is good and the echoed tenor response adds a nice touch of tension and release. Mark then shifts to a country baritone for the slow 3/4-time intensity of “Don’t Take Your Life,” and his voice wonderfully underscores the emotion felt as a man is pulled back from the brink by his acceptance of salvation. That theme of transformation and that same vocal styling is in turn echoed several tracks later as a man sees the light in his jail cell after a wild evening “Last Saturday Night.” Both have a directness of spirit that is captivating, as do his covers of “Rock Of Ages” and the modal “John Was A Baptist,” which incorporates touches of “Pretty Polly” in its melody, particularly the banjo intro. Also of note is “Stack Them Stones,” a slightly funky, blues-tinged number in which the literal stones that are stacked on the shore by Joshua as a guide to others soon become a metaphor for the gospel message itself.

Earle Wheeler, the group’s lone original member and its strongest link to the classic gospel sound, contributes three old-time sounding leads to this fine gospel set, including Jimmy Davis’ raucous “I Was There When It Happened,” and the fine mandolin and guitar-backed “Matthew 24.” (Rural Rhythm, P.O. Box 750, Mt. Juliet, TN 37121,

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