Battlefield – Mountain Faith

Battlefield - Mountain FaithMountain Faith, a family bluegrass Gospel band from North Carolina, has released their second album for Crossroads Music on the label’s Pisgah Ridge imprint.

Battlefield includes ten new tracks, three written within the band, performed by patriarch Sam McMahan’s talented family, including his son Brayden on banjo, and his daughter Summer on fiddle. Sam’s nephew John Morgan plays guitar, and Dustin Norris is on mandolin. For their live shows, the elder McMahan handles the upright, but here it’s Balsam Range’s Tim Surrett on bass and reso-guitar.

Like most Gospel groups, the highlight feature of Mountain Faith is the vocals, especially those of  20 year old Summer. She takes the lead on half of the songs, with Morgan on four and the other a trio number. In any other band, 18 year old John would shine as a sincere and capable vocalist, but not many could steal the spotlight from his cousin.

Since their 2011 release, Save Me, Summer has matured into a force to be reckoned with in bluegrass. She possesses a smooth and agile voice, perfectly suited to the sort of contemporary bluegrass Gospel that the band chooses to record. On top of that, she is a fine songwriter, and her two contributions to Battlefield are far and away the strongest on the album.

I’ll Be Gone is a cheerful song about the of death of her grandmother, with the message that she’ll “be much better off when I’m gone.” Producer Surrett shows his chops on Summer’s other composition, I Will Praise Him, a gorgeous song with lush strings, plus subtle keyboard, and slide work. Summer sings it beautifully, and the track succeeds in every way.

Other notable cuts are In The Sweet Forever, the aforementioned trio vocal with mandolin and guitar accompaniment, the title track, I’m On The Battlefield, written by Sylvana Bell and E.V. Banks, and Living Water, written and sung by Morgan.

All the picking is strong, both in the rhythm section and on solos. Summer handles her fiddle admirably, but you get the impression that she is playing memorized pieces. Brayden, John and Dustin are solid and adventurous with a serious command of their instruments.

Unfortunately, some of the material feels a bit stale, though well-performed. One wonders if the band really picked these after careful consideration, or had them recommended by the label or producer in the studio. It’s not they they are weak songs, just that they don’t all fit the band well.

But don’t take this critique to mean that Battlefield isn’t a stout release. There isn’t anything wrong with this album; in fact, it’s quite good, and well worth a listen if you enjoy bluegrass Gospel music. I nitpick because I think this bunch has a great album in them.

Bottom line… Summer McMahan is an immensely gifted artist. Find her some more suitable material – or lock her in a room until she writes some – and Mountain Faith will be headlining in no time.

Battlefield is available from the band web site, from Crossroads online (digital and CD), and from popular digital download sites.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.