Here’s a further contribution of an occasional feature, where we ask bluegrass personalities to choose their top five Gospel songs. This week we hear from Bob Amos who has a particular love for the songs on an early 1970s Ralph Stanley album.
Vermont born Bob Amos started singing in choirs / choral groups, in church and / or school, when he was about six or seven years old. His deep-seated love of harmony singing comes from those times. He started playing guitar when he was about 12 years old, and the banjo shortly afterwards.
He played in local bluegrass bands mostly as a banjo player and occasional singer, in Delaware during his high school years, and in college in Ohio, then during his graduate school days in Arizona, where he earned a Masters’ degree in geology. In 1982 he moved to Colorado to work as a geologist.
Amos played music with various friends before, in 1988, forming Front Range with the help of mandolin player Mike Lantz, and later with Ron Lynam and Bob Dick.
Amos was the guitarist, lead vocalist and principal songwriter for Front Range, recording five studio albums for Sugar Hill Records during the 1990s.
1. Cry From The Cross – Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys, Cry From The Cross (Rebel, 1971)
2. A Voice From On High – Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, 1954, Decca single 9 29348
3. Bright Morning Stars – Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys, Cry From The Cross (Rebel, 1971)
4. The Model Church – J.D. Crowe and the Kentucky Mountain Boys, The Model Church (Lemco, 1971)
5. One Beautiful Day – Front Range, One Beautiful Day (Sugar Hill, 1995)
Cry From The Cross
While I am a big fan of the 1957 Stanley Brothers version of this song written by Johnnie Masters, I first heard the Ralph Stanley version as the title cut of the wonderful 1971 album of the same name. As a budding teenage bluegrass musician this whole album blew me away. I wore it out, playing and singing along with every song, over and over. It’s still one of my favorite albums. Picking this song for my list really is representative of all of Ralph’s great Gospel music from that period. But if I have to pick one, this is it. What I especially like is that this song does not dance around the subject matter. The immediate and stark imagery of the crucifixion is powerful and heart-breaking. It’s a great song.
A Voice From On High
Bill Monroe’s 1954 version of the song A Voice From On High, written by Bill Monroe and Bessie Mauldin, and sung by Monroe, Jimmy Martin and Charlie Cline, remains not only one of my favorite Gospel songs and performances, but simply one of my favorite recordings of any kind of music. There is something immensely powerful and haunting in the lyrics and particularly in the vocal harmonies of this recording. It’s simply stunning! I never, ever get tired of hearing it.
Bright Morning Star
I have always loved a cappella bluegrass Gospel singing, so I wanted to include one on my list. I have written and recorded a few myself. I could have picked a song by the Country Gentleman, Bluegrass Cardinals, or Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, because there are so many great performances to pick from. But I chose this one, which is also from Ralph Stanley’s album Cry From The Cross, because it is not only one of my favorites, but also because it was the first a cappella recording by a major bluegrass artist (per Gary Reid). It was certainly the first one I ever heard. It’s mournful, moving and triumphant, all at the same time – a great song, and a great performance.
The Model Church
J. D. Crowe’s 1971 Gospel album The Model Church was another early favorite album of mine. The whole album was powerfully played and sung, the songs were great, and there was a lot of terrific vocal harmony. I loved it. I spent hours and hours listening, playing and singing along with this LP. In particular I remember singing each part, playing a song and saying, “ok, now I’m gonna sing Doyle’s part,” then I’d play it again and sing J.D.’s part, and then Larry Rice’s. It became my Gospel bluegrass training ground. I almost picked I’ll Talk It All Over with Him to be on this list, because it still knocks me out, but there is something wonderful and emotional about the trio performance on the title cut The Model Church. The a cappella part at the very end of the song still gives me chills.
One Beautiful Day
It seems self-serving to pick one of my own songs, One Beautiful Day, for this list. But I felt I should include it because the song has been so important to me personally and spiritually over many years. It was the title cut of my band Front Range’s album, which won the IBMA Gospel Recorded Event of the Year award in 1995. I had written this song earlier when my daughter Sarah was a baby, wondering about what kind of world she and her brother Nathan would grow up in, hoping for the best. Now all these years later Sarah and I perform together on a regular basis and sing this song together at every performance. It is still my favorite song to sing, and now it is my favorite song to hear my daughter sing as well. It’s so deeply embedded into who I am that I couldn’t leave it out.
This video, recorded at the Delaware Bluegrass Festival in September 2017, features his daughter Sarah singing lead and harmony vocals on One Beautiful Day …..
One Beautiful Day, Front Range’s third album, was named Best Gospel Recording of 1995 by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA).
Currently Bob leads his own award-winning band, Bob Amos & Catamount Crossing; they have released three CDs since 2012.
“Sarah and I are working on a duo album, to be released this Spring. There will also be another bluegrass album, with my band, coming not too long after that, possibly in the fall.”