In the thirty-plus years since its founding, Bluegrass Express has developed a steady following throughout the Midwest, winning over audiences with its strong mixture of straightforward bluegrass and Gospel, all with a traditional bent. The band has recently released its eighth album, an all-Gospel effort titled Answer to My Prayer. All ten tracks are enjoyable, with both the easily recognizable classic hymns and the lesser-known Gospel cuts showing off clear vocals and tight instrumentation.
Bluegrass Express is, in general, a family affair, with three generations of the Underwood family making up three-fourths of the band: Gary (guitar), son Greg (bass), and grandson Jacob (banjo and guitar). Nate Burie rounds out the group on mandolin. Greg handles the majority of the lead vocals here, presenting a smooth, genial voice throughout the album. One of his best performances is opening track He Lives, an uptempo version of the testimonial hymn. Greg gives the song an earnest, cheerful reading, accompanied by bouncy banjo from Jacob and peppy fiddle from guest Tim Crouch. Victory in Jesus is another fine rendition of an old hymn, again largely guided by Jacob’s banjo and with nice mandolin work from Nate. Greg’s vocals on the verses are sincere and heartfelt, while Gary takes over for a stirring chorus.
Greg also penned the album’s lone original song, which is the title track. It’s a catchy number with a breezy melody, country-style fiddle from Crouch, and a nice use of stops, with lyrics that thank the Lord for always answering prayers. The band’s cut of Little White Church is one of the album’s highlights, particularly thanks to the harmony on the choruses and tasteful mandolin. Many traditionalists aren’t fans of electric bass, but I am, and Greg’s playing here deserves a special kudos. Gary sings lead on this number, as well as the inspirational Higher Ground, which finds the singer striving to be more Christ-like in his daily living. Gary and Greg also offer a fine duet on the Louvin Brothers’ You’ll Be Rewarded; they may be a father and son, but they tackle the brother duo style with ease.
John Bowman joins in on fiddle and tenor vocal for Just Any Day Now, which has more of a southern Gospel feel than most of the rest of the album. Bluegrass fans may recognize the song from Doyle Lawson’s repertoire, though numerous Gospel groups have also recorded it. Speaking of Doyle Lawson, What Will You Do With This Man has an eighties Quicksilver vibe to it, with gentle mandolin, striking harmonies, and nice electric bass. The song is a well-written telling of the story of Jesus’s trial before Pilate and subsequent crucifixion, and may be the album’s best track. Justin Moses guests on dobro, and his intro is especially strong.
Bluegrass Express has everything it takes to be a strong bluegrass band: stout rhythm, talented vocalists, skilled instrumental solos, and good taste in selecting songs. Answer to My Prayer is a solid bluegrass Gospel album, and fans of traditional Gospel should find much to enjoy here.
For more information on Bluegrass Express, visit them online at www.bluegrassexpressband.com. Their new album can be purchased from their website and is also available for radio download from Airplay Direct.