Just shy of celebrating thirty years as a band, bluegrass Gospel stalwarts The Churchmen continue to sound energetic and fresh on God Holds Tomorrow, their latest album for Mountain Fever Records. The album’s twelve all-new songs include four originals from banjo player Carroll Arnn as well as selections from such popular bluegrass songwriters as Donna Ulisse, Thomm Jutz, Milan Miller, and Pete Goble. With a smooth sound, clear vocals, and a traditional bent, The Churchmen offer listeners a winning combination.
The album’s best song, hands down, is opening track and first single Alone on a Hill. Written by Charley Stefl and Thomm Jutz, it takes listeners through several important events in Jesus’s life. It’s a moving number, to be sure, but the arrangement is what really puts it head and shoulders above many other Gospel songs I’ve heard recently. Opening with only Arnn’s lead vocal accompanied by Avery Welter’s guitar, the music slowly adds and builds as the song reaches its climax, telling of the crucifixion. It merits hitting the rewind button several times upon first listen.
Also enjoyable are the southern Gospel-esque Follow Me and No Tears in Heaven, both of which feature great quartet vocals, emphatic upright bass from Keith Clark, and a nice traditional mandolin kickoff from Gerald Harbour. Bad News for the Devil, from Pete Goble and Rick Lang is another good traditional-sounding song. Its bouncy melody belies the song’s “bad news,” reminding listeners that God will never let evil win. Lang also penned The Good Samaritan, a straightforward telling of the Biblical story with angry banjo and fiddle from Arnn and Daniel Greeson, respectively. This song is a bit heavier and darker-sounding than the others here; think the Boxcars or Volume Five.
It Works for Me, one of Arnn’s four contributions, features some fun fingerpicked guitar and uplifts “old-timey” values, helping neighbors, and Bible-based preaching. Time to Give Our Country Back to God, also from Arnn’s pen, has a similar message, urging listeners to seek God when it feels like the world is in turmoil. All Over Me has a more contemporary vibe, at least musically. Its message is summed up in a line from the chorus: “When I stand before Your throne and my life story’s told, You won’t see me or the things I’ve done, You’ll see the blood of Your sweet son, all over me.”
As with many bluegrass Gospel groups, the vocals on this project are a highlight. Most of the songs here feature three-part harmony, some a little more traditional than others. Closing track Living Waters, is a strong example, taking a note from the Osborne Brothers and featuring Welter on high lead, Clark singing baritone, and Harbour on low tenor. Greeson’s snappy fiddling provides a nice intro, and Welter does a convincing turn as a ne’er-do-well who heeds his mother’s advice to turn to Jesus.
The Churchmen turn in a strong effort with God Holds Tomorrow. Fans of traditional bluegrass Gospel should find much to enjoy here.
For more information on The Churchmen, visit them online at www.thechurchmen.com.