This second release from Common Strings, the husband and wife duo of Darron (mandolin and harmony) and Vanessa Nichols (lead vocals and one track on guitar), finds the couple shifting from the mostly secular subjects of their debut to an album of gospel songs. Backing them are Sammy Shelor (banjo), Brandon Rickman (guitar), Jimmy Creed (bass), Mike Hartgrove (fiddle), Dale Anne Bradley (harmony), and Steve Gulley (harmony).
What places this album above other wellsung, wellplayed gospel recordings is the attention given to the song choices. Coproducers Shelor and the Nichols could have followed convention and covered a few standards and used some filler. Instead, they went deeper into the repertoire for seven public domain gems and one Albert Brumley tune that are, if not obscure, certainly underrecorded in bluegrass. Only Brumley’s “Prettiest Flowers” comes close to being a standard.
Opening the recording is “When The Redeemed Are Gathering In,” a hymn long ago recorded by Ernest Stoneman and later by the Brown’s Ferry Four, but rarely since in bluegrass. Here it gets a nice medium bounce and some excellent harmony. A few tracks later is the modaltinged “Preachin’ By The Roadside” given an oldtime feel with clawhammer banjo and no bass. Next is the uptempo “Nothing But The Blood” followed by “Twilight Is Fading.” The latter is Vanessa and her guitar, and the effect is pure Carter Family (although they never covered it). Another tune given an oldtime reading is “The Message Of His Coming.” The 3/4 time “Paul’s Ministry” is a wonderful piece of songwriting once covered by Kitty Wells.
The album ends with Vanessa singing “The Revelation,” backed only by the hypnotic and mournful fiddling of Mike Hartgrove. Mix in three originals that sound like they were written in the ’40s, most particularly the classic country of Wayne King’s “Beyond The Mist Of Blue,” and you have an album guaranteed to lift the spirits. (Rural Rhythm Records, P.O. Box 660040 Dept. D, Arcadia, CA 91066, www.ruralrhythm.com.) BW