An album which begins with the vocal quartet of Larry Stephenson, Jimmy Fortune, David Parmley, and Dale Perry can’t help but be good, and Pull Your Savior In, the newest effort (and fifth all-Gospel project) from the Larry Stephenson Band, doesn’t disappoint. It serves as both an all-new release and a celebration of Stephenson’s twenty-fifth year fronting his own band, and as such, it finds him comfortably leaning pretty heavily toward the traditional side of things. Twelve tracks run the gamut from familiar hymns to Flatt and Scruggs-style Gospel to a few newer songs, all set to solid bluegrass instrumentation.
Stephenson, on mandolin, recorded this album with his touring band at the time – legendary banjo man Kenny Ingram, guitarist Colby Laney, and bassist Danny Stewart (the latter two have since moved on from the band), as well as guest Aubrey Haynie on fiddle. The musicians have a tight sound (with Ingram’s banjo work a particular treat), but the focus here, like on many of Stephenson’s albums, is on the vocals. From the first track, Stephenson’s high lead is at the forefront, supported by the well-honed harmony vocals of his band.
As mentioned previously, that opening track stands out as a vocal showcase. Along with a who’s who of guest vocalists, Stephenson provides listeners with a clear, bright a capella version of the old hymn Amazing Grace. It transitions nicely into the title track, a toe-tapping, driving original from Stephenson which urges listeners to turn to Jesus and pull Him close to them. Another enjoyable upbeat number is the album closer, the traditional Will You Meet Me Over Yonder, with its smooth lead from Stephenson and tight harmonies on the chorus.
More gentle-sounding are the Gospel favorite Prettiest Flowers Will Be Blooming, penned by Alfred Brumley, and the Donna Ulisse/Rick Stanley co-write Come to Jesus Moment. The latter has a more contemporary feel than the rest of the album. It’s quietly backed by Laney’s guitar and Haynie’s fiddle as it tells the story of a man who seeks to feel peace as he asks forgiveness from the Lord.
>In addition to newer songwriters, Stephenson also samples from some old favorites. The Louvin Brothers’ Born Again is cheerful and bouncy, a banjo-guided and grassed up version of Charlie and Ira’s more country-leaning original. Lester Flatt’s Thank God I’m On My Way is, interestingly, more traditional than the original (which appeared on Flatt and Scruggs’ 1966 When the Saints Go Marching In and featured drums and harmonica). If You Want to Live Forever is a great quartet number from Randall Hylton (co-written with Cadillac Holmes), that finds Ingram picking some fine Scruggs-style guitar.
Stephenson is one of today’s top traditional-leaning bluegrass artists, and he reminds us all why on Pull Your Savior In. The album is out now from Stephenson’s own Whysper Dream Music, and can be purchased from several online music retailers. For more information, visit www.larrystephensonband.com.