Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers is one of the most consistent bands in bluegrass music. Whenever they release an album, you know exactly what you’re going to get – top-tier, traditional-leaning bluegrass, powered by Mullins’s solid banjo and supported by some of the best musicians in the business. The group’s newest release, Somewhere Beyond the Blue from Billy Blue Records, doesn’t let listeners down – it’s an excellent Gospel effort that’s pure Radio Ramblers through and through.
The opening track (and lead single) comes from Gospel stalwart Jerry Sullivan and Marty Stuart. Hear Jerusalem Calling is a lively toe-tapper that offers quartet-style vocals and a well-written overview of Jesus’s saving power. It’s a definite repeat listen, sure to uplift and cheer listeners. Several other well-known songwriters are featured here, including two cuts from Jerry Salley. Go Spread the Gospel, co-written by Salley and Bill Anderson, kicks off with traditional mandolin from Jeff Parker and Mullins’s signature high lead vocals. It’s another cut with strong lyrics, sharing a message from a country preacher to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk: “Go spread the Gospel, use as few words as possible. They’d rather see a sermon than to hear one any day.”
Also from Salley’s pen is There’s No New Way Home, written with Jim McBride. It’s a straightforward, earnest reminder that there’s only one way to heaven with a nice vocal arrangement. Vocals are also highlighted on You Gotta Get Down, an a capella piece from Larry Cordle, Galen Griffin, and Larry Shell. Like many of Cordle’s best songs, it features a plainspoken tone and clever turns of phrase. Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus) is another a capella showcase, though with a very different feel. The stripped-back song was a huge hit for contemporary Christian artist Chris Tomlin in the early 2000s, and has become known for both its simplicity and its moving lyrics. It’s very different from anything else on the album, but simply put, brilliantly done. I found myself rewinding the track several times to admire the vocal arrangement. Them boys can SANG!
Back on the banjo-guided side of things are songs like Mark Bishop’s With the Spirit of the Lord Inside, which hits some nice Southern Gospel vibes, and I’m Never Alone, which reminds listeners that Jesus will never leave them. The latter number features a neat arrangement, with a tempo change at the chorus, and some fine fiddling from Jason Barie. Folks who prefer a more country-leaning sound will enjoy Living Left to Do, which finds the singer dedicating himself to the work he has to do here on Earth before he reaches his heavenly home.
There’s really not a bad song in the bunch here. The band hits all the right notes and the vocals are truly top-notch. With several strong lead singers – all with distinctive vocal styles – the Radio Ramblers prove themselves once again a versatile group. The band’s previous Gospel efforts have earned quite a bit of praise and even awards show recognition. I foresee more of the same for Somewhere Beyond the Blue.
For more information on Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, visit them online. Their new album is available from several online music retailers.