Bluegrass musicians who perform Gospel music usually choose from one of several paths. There’s the traditional style of bluegrass Gospel, made classic by Flatt and Scruggs, The Stanley Brothers, and the like. There are the a capella numbers favored by groups such as Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver. Then there are the smooth, country-flavored contemporary songs which are so popular these days. Locust Ridge, a relatively new group from East Tennessee, touches at least briefly on all of these styles on their latest album, Healed, offering fans of Gospel music quite a treat.
The thirteen songs here are mostly originals, with eight of them written or co-written by lead vocalist and guitarist Russell Allen, but they all cling strongly to bluegrass and southern Gospel traditions. The album opens with Allen’s Still Walking on the Water, a cheerful midtempo number about how, thousands of years after His time on earth, Jesus still helps people every day. The always enjoyable Southern Gospel favorite Canaan’s Land is Just in Sight is given a bit of a bluesy sound, guided by guest Justin Moses’s fiddle. It’s quite reminiscent of IIIrd Tyme Out’s Gospel efforts, with nice bass work by Larry Allen.
On the more contemporary side of things is Mercy Found Me, co-written by Russell Allen and Steve Gulley (who also produced and engineered the album). This song is slower than most on the album, and shares the singer’s thankfulness for salvation, although he knows he doesn’t deserve it. Gulley and Allen also worked together on another contemporary track, Restoring the Love, which was previously recorded by Dale Ann Bradley on her Somewhere South of Crazy album. Bradley offers her immediately recognizable harmony vocals on Locust Ridge’s cut of the song, a tender story of healing and help from the Lord.
One of the best aspects of the album is the tight harmony vocals provided by the three Allen brothers (Russell, Larry, and Josh), along with several additional guest vocalists. It’s always been hard to beat family harmonies in bluegrass music, and these brothers offer several fine contributions. The harmonies are perhaps the most visible on I’m Glad I’m Saved, a smoothly executed a cappella number. Another standout song is Silver and Gold, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Southern Gospel album, although the mandolin on the track brings it back toward bluegrass.
Strict traditionalists might have a problem with the album’s lack of banjo – although to be fair, many bluegrass Gospel songs that are now standards don’t include banjo, particularly those by Flatt and Scruggs. The traditional-sounding Oh I’m Glad I’m Saved is really the only song here that features banjo, and it’s definitely one of the album’s best.
Healed is a nicely varied album, and the members of Locust Ridge are obviously familiar with the numerous traditions that comprise bluegrass Gospel music. The band members work well together, both vocally and instrumentally, with Russell Allen (guitar and vocals), Larry Allen (bass and vocals), Josh Allen (mandolin and vocals), and Andy Blalock (rhythm guitar and banjo) all displaying their talents. Fans of bluegrass Gospel will certainly want to check out this release.
For more information on Locust Ridge, visit their website at www.locustridge.org. Their new album is out now from Rural Rhythm Christian and can be purchased from a variety of online music retailers.