Changes have come to The Churchmen since their last gospel recording. Original founders Keith Clark on bass and vocals and Gerald Harbour on mandolin and vocals are still here, as is five-year veteran Carroll Arnn on banjo and vocals. New to the group are a couple of talented young guys, guitarist Avery Welter and fiddler Daniel Greeson. Both get ample room to show their talents and both make good showings.
What hasn’t changed here is the spirit and quality that drives The Churchmen’s music. Their last recording was somewhat more traditional in feel than I’d heard in their earlier releases. That’s largely true with this one, though a couple of tracks—“The Good Samaritan” and “Time To Give Our Country Back To God”—have a more contemporary feel. Many of the songs here, all of them new, have a familiar quality. Listen to “Bad News For The Devil” or “No Tears In Heaven,” among several others, and see if you don’t agree.
It’s rare that an album opens with a slow, three-quarter-time tune and rarer still that the tune is “Alone On A Hill.” While there are many good songs here—Arnn’s jaunty fingerpicked “It Works For Me,” the aforementioned “Bad News For The Devil” with its “Using My Bible For A Roadmap” intro quote, the rollicking “Follow Me,” and the Monroe-esque “No Tears In Heaven”—“Alone On A Hill” goes them one better. Guitar and vocal first verse, mandolin joining at the solo, full band for the second verse, intensity and energy building, and a key shift. They don’t get much better than that. Without it, this would still be a very good recording of bluegrass gospel. With it, it’s that much better. (Mountain Fever, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd. NW, Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.)BW