There’s no doubt, even from the opening notes of I’d Like to be Your Neighbor, the initial song on this, their 10th album, that The Churchmen live up to their name. Likewise, it’s especially evident that the title of their new effort, A Mountain To Climb, has nothing to do with any sort of tedious challenge or physical duress. Rather, it’s a succinct description of the spiritual journey they ascribe to in their songs, a path forward to paradise and the blessings that await those with the faith to persevere.
Given their reputation as a much admired Gospel group from Collinsville, Virginia, the message in their music also comes as no surprise. Every track on the album makes a spiritual statement, whether it’s the bedside farewell to one at the end of his life, and presumably on the verge of ascending to heaven (the aforementioned I’d Like to be Your Neighbor), a testament to the need to embrace God’s love (Living Where the Son Don’t Shine), or simply a prayer to offer thanks for bountiful blessings (What God Has Done for Me).
Yet even those who don’t share their fervent beliefs will likely still find the melodies enjoyable and enticing. Bassist Keith Clark, banjo player Carroll Arnn, guitarist Jay Adams, and mandolin player Greg Jones create a sound that’s both upbeat and engaging, as reflected in the effusive strains of the title track, the joyful and jubilant Branches, or through the drive and determination expressed in Here I Am. Indeed, a song such as Wings of Your Love could be easily interpreted as a secular love song, or simply a paean to devotion, no matter what form it may take.
Religious music is sometimes frowned upon by those with an aversion to excessive preaching or pontificating. That’s understandable of course, because for many folks, faith is based on an individual’s beliefs. Yet, given the Churchmen’s compelling bluegrass delivery and collective harmonies, the sound itself is instantly appealing, even putting one’s religious preferences aside.
The Churchmen may not sway a disbeliever, but their sound ought to convert even the most skeptical all the same.