There’s no doubt that Larry Cordle is one of the great songwriters of the modern era of bluegrass and country music. As many folks in the bluegrass world know, he’s also a fine vocalist and musician. His solo albums and recordings with his band Lonesome Standard Time have garnered several radio hits and IBMA awards, among other accolades. After a short hiatus from recording to fight leukemia, Cordle has recently released his first all-Gospel album, Give Me Jesus.
Befitting such a strong songwriter, several of the tracks on the album are originals from Cordle. However, there’s also a selection of traditional hymns and classic Gospel numbers with updated arrangements, including some strong Southern Gospel-style quartets. The music is stripped back (guitar, mandolin, and bass on most tracks), allowing the words and vocals to stand out. As an extra bonus, Cordle has also included a 12-page booklet within the CD case, a rarity these days, with lyrics and personal notes for each track, describing the song’s background and where he learned it.
The album opens with an old favorite, Two Coats, which has been given a gritty, bluesy arrangement thanks to Clay Hess’s guitar and Rob Ickes’s Weissenborn slide guitar. Don Rigsby provides a nice tenor counterpart to Cordle’s earthy lead vocal. Ickes also provides a bluesy vibe for The Old Thing’s Walkin’ About, an original from Cordle and Larry Shell about being prepared for the judgement day. It was inspired by a humorous story from Cordle’s family history in which his uncle was awakened one morning by what he thought was angels singing, but was in fact a Gospel band driving past broadcasting their music from car-top speakers. According to Cordle, he had wanted to turn the story into a funny country number for years, and finally realized it would work better as a Gospel song. The African-American spiritual-style harmonies from Angela Primm and Gale Mayes add an inspiring, evocative touch to the track.
Cordle and Shell collaborated on two other originals for the project. The first is the very traditional sounding This Blood’s For You, reminding listeners that no matter what they’ve done, Jesus shed his blood for their salvation. The other, Lost as a Ball in High Weeds, was originally released on Cordle’s 2003 album Songs from the Workbench. It’s a well-written, touching tribute to “an old country preacher, with hard mountain features” who turned the narrator’s life around and brought Jesus into his life. The harmonies, featuring Cordle, Val Storey, Carl Jackson, and Bradley Walker, are a standout, especially Walker’s strong bass.
Several songs speak of what is waiting after death for those who believe in the Lord, including Gone On Before, penned by Cordle and Ronnie Bowman after both men had lost their mothers. It was previously featured on Cordle’s Pud Marcum’s Hangin’ album, but the lyrics have been slightly altered here as to not specifically refer to a mother. It’s a gentle, peaceful track, meant to reassure listeners that even though a loved one may have passed on, they’re “not really gone, just gone on before.” I’ll Meet You in the Morning, a gem from the songbook of Albert Brumley, has a similar theme, with the singer planning to greet a new arrival to heaven. It’s an a capella vocal showcase, featuring what Cordle has termed “The Joyful Noise Quartet” – himself on lead, Jackson on tenor, high baritone from Storey, and Walker singing bass.
Other highlights on the album include the country classic Family Bible, a poignant ode to the olden days when dads read aloud from the Bible and mothers sang hymns in the evening, and Carl Story’s It’s a Lonesome Road, which features Carl Jackson’s father, Lethal Jackson, singing lead vocal on the verses. Cordle shares in the liner notes that he originally learned the song from Lethal, and had always planned to include it if and when he recorded a Gospel album.
With Give Me Jesus, Cordle has put together a solid bluegrass-flavored Gospel record. In some ways, it’s more somber and toned-down than most Gospel albums of the bluegrass persuasion (there’s no banjo or fiddle, folks), but the songs here are uplifting and well-written, with messages meant to encourage and inspire. The musicians (Clay Hess, Brennan Hess, Irl Hees, and Rob Ickes) do a find job setting the tone, and the vocalists shine throughout.
For more information on Larry Cordle, visit www.larrycordle.com. His new album is available from several online music retailers.