Hard-driving modern traditional bluegrass is everywhere these days. Songs that fall into this category usually hit on all of the bluegrass standards – heartbreak, moonshine, trains, etc. – but rarely do you ever hear Gospel music with that banjo-fueled, heavy-hitting sound. J.D. Messer & Sanctified, a new group out of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, are working on rectifying that situation with their debut album on Kindred Records, Coal Miner’s Prayer.
The band comes in strong and rarely lets up on Coal Miner’s Prayer, with twelve tracks of songs that are both uplifting and heavy-hitting. I Don’t Deserve opens the album, with the well-written tale of a man’s salvation experience. This number is reminiscent of The Boxcars, as is Lunch Box Letter, which isn’t necessarily a typical Gospel song, with its coal mining theme, but speaks of hope after an unexpected death. This song depicts a sweet relationship between a husband and wife, and will likely go over well in the coal mining country the band hails from.
When I Step Out, on the other hand, has a more strictly traditional sound. This upbeat, cheery song speaks of the joy the singer will feel when he makes it to Heaven. Another number that leans toward to the classic side of bluegrass is Peter Stepped Out, which features some tasteful instrumental work and seems as if it would be a fun, spirited song to hear live. A retelling of the Noah’s ark story, Rain is performed a capella and has an interesting, layered arrangement.
When Mama Talks to the Man slows things down a bit, and is performed in the style of a classic country weeper. Mamas have always been a formidable force in bluegrass music, and the one in this song is no different as she offers up a prayer that helps save her son from a terrible mistake. Peace Be With You is also slower than some of the other numbers, and has a light, calming feel – certainly reflecting the song’s title. It’s one of the most contemporary-sounding on the album.
Road Less Traveled is the somewhat mysterious, intriguing tale of a man who meets a hitchhiking stranger while driving home from a revival meeting. The dark feel of the music fits the song’s story well, and though the story is a little bit predictable, it’s an enjoyable number.
The music here is, for the most part, extremely well-done. Messer (mandolin and lead vocals) and Albon Clevenger (fiddle) both contributed to Cumberland Gap Connection’s latest album, and there are definite similarities between the two groups’ sounds. Clevenger’s fiddling is a particular high point here. Other band members include Kenny Stanley (guitar), Jerry Sturgell (dobro), Kayla Amburgey (bass and vocals), and Brent Amburgey (banjo), all of whom make fine contributions to the album.
For more information on J.D. Messer and Sanctified, visit their website at www.jdmesserandsanctified.com. Their new album is available from several online music retailers, and is also available for radio programmers at Airplay Direct.