Album of the Week #33 – Paul Williams’ Hard Working Pilgrim

Hard Working Pilgrim - Paul WilliamsBluegrass Gospel has always been some of my favorite music, but it holds an extra special place in my heart during Easter when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection. These songs of the faith while celebrating Christ’s wondrous work is, literally, a match made in heaven.

My mom’s favorite singer, as well as one of mine, is Paul Williams. Paul made bluegrass history while working alongside his brother-in-law Jimmy Martin as a member of the Sunny Mountain Boys. In addition to singing powerful tenor, Paul wrote some of the most well-known songs in the bluegrass canon including, Mr. EngineerPrayer Bells Of Heaven, and My Walkin’ Shoes. Decades later, Paul would become one of our music’s most beloved Gospel artists.

Featuring a mix of originals and old favorites, my favorite of his albums is 2001’s Hard Working PilgrimPaul’s powerful voice sounds just as strong in the 21st century as it did in the fifties. If anything, time has strengthened Paul’s voice. This album is such a blessing. Whenever I’m feeling discouraged, Hard Working Pilgrim always lifts me up. I’ve been able to sing every song (though not very well) since my grade school years.

Hymn book favorites such as When I Step Off On That Beautiful Shore, There Is A Fountain, and Where The Milk And Honey Flows flow seamlessly alongside Williams’ originals like Holy Ghost ExcitementI Want To Tell It All Over Again, and There’s Been A Few Times.

Many may appreciate Paul’s treatment of Wayfaring Stranger, which he changes to Wayfaring Pilgrim. Everyone from Tony Rice to Jack White has recorded this classic song, but no one does it like Paul. He sings with such power and conviction, that you can’t help but be captivated.

Paul’s version of When I Step Off On That Beautiful Shore is one of the most requested songs on my Dad’s gospel radio show, Hymns From The Hills. Often incorrectly titled Family Reunion, the song speaks of the hope we have in Christ after we leave this world.

Some day, I’ll cross the river, and step off on that beautiful shore.
After while, I’ll see my Jesus, and live in His presence evermore.
I’ve got a lot of loved ones, who are waiting for me to come.
I’ll be there forever, when I step off on that beautiful shore.

This is a bona fide classic.

The album’s shortest track is one of its brightest moments. A lesser-known tune from the pen of Albert E Brumley, Been A Hard Working Pilgrim, serves as the album’s title track and a snapshot of Williams’ music at the time. Paul’s great friend, Doyle Lawson, recorded the song years earlier on his a cappella album, Heaven’s Joy Awaits. However, Paul’s version takes the cake. He kicks up the tempo and adds a simple guitar, leaving plenty of room for Paul’s signature voice to shine.

As a family friend, I think of this song when I think of Paul. He has been an inspiration and a mentor to me and my family. Every time I think of him, I think of a “hard working pilgrim” who strives to do his best for the Lord every day. Whether it is singing on stage or walking at the mall, he glorifies God in whatever he does. That’s why hearing Paul sing this song is so special to me: he knows what he’s singing about because he lives it.

Hard Working Pilgrim is available on Rebel Records (REB-CD-1774). It can be ordered through County Sales or the Classic Country Connection, or can be downloaded through iTunes or Amazon MP3.

Have a happy Easter everyone!

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About the Author

Daniel Mullins

Daniel Mullins is an IBMA award-winning journalist and broadcaster from southwestern Ohio, with an American Studies degree from Cedarville University. He hosts the Walls of Time: Bluegrass Podcast and his daily radio program, The Daniel Mullins Midday Music Spectacular, on the Real Roots Radio network. He also serves as the station’s music director, programming country, bluegrass, and Americana music.