Doyle Lawson’s Powerful Message

Open Carefully, Message InsideThe arrival of a new Doyle Lawson CD in the mailbox is cause for joy. Even before the plastic wrapper is peeled off, you know what to expect – music as tasteful and original as his custom boots and jackets.

And yet, after 36 recordings, 20 of them Gospel projects, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver still have the capacity to be not just tasteful but surprising. That’s exactly what they are on their latest Mountain Home offering, Open Carefully, Message Inside.

This isn’t just a stellar collection of praise songs. It’s pretty much a guide for how to present Gospel music to the masses.

There isn’t a “passover” song among the 11 presented here – one that you skip after hearing it for the first time or two. Part of that is a testament to Lawson’s song picking philosophy: “I have always believed that the songs must have a message, something to say and not just rhyme.”

Part of it is also based on his undervalued skills as an arranger. He can make old chestnuts sound fresh and new songs sound familiar.

The heart of Open Carefully is a three-song string in the middle of the CD – Lead Me to That Fountain, He’s in Control, and Will You Go? If you want to make a Gospel record, this is how you do it. And, while I’m at it, this is how you write them, too. All three come from the pen of Steve Watts, with a co-write with Lawson on the last one.

Lead Me to That Fountain is a quartet song, which isn’t surprising given that that’s what Lawson grew up hearing his father sing. Quicksilver is stuffed to the gills with first-rate pickers, but the beauty here is that the only accompaniment is in the form of a barebones guitar part.

>He’s In Control is a traditional a cappella arrangement, anchored by Josh Swift’s fine bass vocal. Part of the charm, in addition to the goosebump-inducing harmonies, is that this new song from Watts sounds like it was written decades ago.

Finally, Will You Go is hard-driving bluegrass Gospel, the kind you expect to hear on the radio to spice up a lazy Sunday afternoon. If this one doesn’t get your heart racing, yet another Steve Watts offering, Climbing Upward, should do it. The pace is blistering, the message is powerful and the picking is sublime.

Get On Board is also worth singling out. It’s a well known spiritual, freshened by a new verse that Lawson added, and by his arrangement. There are actually six voices on this song. That’s right, every member of the band gets a turn at the microphone – Lawson, Swift, Jason Barie, Joe Dean, Dustin Pyrtle and Eli Johnston. Each verse features a different picker, with four parts chiming in on the choruses.

Part of the beauty of bluegrass music is that some of the legends not only still walk among us but also still perform at a hall of fame level. Doyle Lawson is one of them. The evidence is right here on this fine CD.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.