Since the late 1980s, The Cockman Family have been bluegrass Gospel favorites for audiences in and around North Carolina. A true family band consisting of four brothers, a sister, and their father, they’ve racked up accolades in musical and traditional arts circles over the past three decades, including several National Banjo and Guitar Championships, as well as the North Carolina Community Traditions Award. Their latest release, A Letter from Home, allows the group members to show off their considerable picking, singing, and songwriting talents while also sharing the Gospel message.
The album is a mixture of well-written originals and fresh versions of old hymns and public domain numbers. Two originals are contributed by Caroline Cockman Fisher, who also takes several turns on lead vocals throughout the album. The uplifting opening track I’m Not Gonna Fear is especially relevant in our current “new normal,” with the singer reminding listeners that even in a time of economic troubles, sickness, and other strife, God still takes care of us. Bright banjo and fiddle from Billy Cockman and John Cockman, Jr., respectively, provide an optimistic background and help set a nice tone for the album. Caroline also penned Healing, a soft contemporary Christian-leaning number that touches on the idea of having faith even when it seems that God is far away.
Billy also wrote a pair of songs for the album. He Forgot What He Forgave comes with a message that many Christians struggle with remembering and accepting – that as soon as God forgives their sins, He also forgets them. It’s an easygoing, encouraging number with nice harmony vocals. Also encouraging is He is My Joy, with its warm vocals from Billy and cheery mandolin and fiddle. Bass player David Cockman penned the jazzy, uptempo Walk with God (which has the memorable line “How can you walk with God when you’re running with the devil?”), while John, Jr. offers the title track, a soothing, gentle ode to comforts and knowledge found in reading the Bible.
Several numbers here are familiar hymns or Gospel favorites, but the band has updated arrangements a bit to make them seem new. He Lives, a longtime favorite at my church, has swingy, bouncy instrumentation with a bit of a twenties flair (especially thanks to the banjo). Life’s Railway to Heaven offers bluesy guitar, a stepped-up rhythm, and confident vocals from John, Jr., while Over in the Gloryland offers traditional bluegrass fans a rip-roaring good time, as well as solid vocal harmonies. Sweet By and By is the album’s only instrumental, with a peaceful melody and guest appearances from the band (and family) “founders,” John Cockman, Sr. on rhythm guitar and Jane Cockman on piano.
There’s a lot to like on this album, for both fans of bluegrass Gospel music and for people who just generally like well-played bluegrass. The Cockman Family offers a strong blend of traditional and contemporary sounds, and they prove themselves to be solid, capable musicians while doing so.
For more information on the Cockman Family, or to purchase their new album, visit their website.