Though billed as a companion to Don’t Forget The Song that Dry Branch Fire Squad is releasing simultaneously, The Gospel Way needs no pairing to be fully enjoyed. Both were recorded at the same session and used similar recording techniques, but one doesn’t necessarily complete the other. In fact, they come across as vastly different in construction. The secular recording has, in spite of its rough-hewn early-days-of-bluegrass sound, an exploratory quality about it, crossing genres to make its point. It also has a consistently slower tempo overall.
The Gospel Way, by contrast, is a more conventional bluegrass recording. Same rough-hewn quality, yes. Same early-days sound, yes. But it’s more conventional in form and tempo variety, more familiar in title and source. Flatt & Scruggs and The Stanleys account for almost half the tracks, and listeners will recognize many of the titles: “Brother I’m Getting Ready To Go,” “If I Be Lifted Up,” “Take Me In Your Lifeboat,” “No Mother In This World,” “When The Angels Carry Me Home,” “Model Church,” and “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”
Of course, the aim of a gospel recording is much different. The message is the point, so familiar pieces make perfect sense, and if they’re done as well as these are, all the better. Still, there are a few surprises here. “The Model Church” is one. Though a standard, here it’s presented the way Ron Thomason remembered it as a child and is given only clawhammer banjo backing. Also included is the less-familiar Blue Sky Boys version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” with its different lyrics and altered melody. Perhaps the most-obscure track is the tune “Upper Window,” a traditional tune built on the story of Noah and his need for comforting. Paired with a couple of other lesser-recorded tunes, “Lonely Tombs” and the ancient-sounding a cappella of “The Lone Pilgrim,” it rounds out a fine gospel offering. (Aerie-Eagle Ranch, P.O. Box 404, Cotopaxi, CO 81223, www.drybranchfiresquad.com.)BW