The Soul Pickers are Shane Norman (mandolin and lead vocals), Tyler Anderson (banjo, finger-picked guitar and harmony vocals), Daniel Wiseman (guitar and harmony vocals) and Wayne Clemons (upright bass and harmony vocals) from the northern Alabama/Tennessee area.
They formed in 2003 and since that time, the Soul Pickers have done over 275 dates, including special church singings, homecomings, and revivals, as well as less obvious locations for a bluegrass Gospel band, like restaurants, civic gatherings, family functions and music barns.
The Beautiful River Of Life is the band’s debut album, coming courtesy of their signing for the Blue Circle label in April 2007.
The quartet is supplemented on this 12 track collection by producer Tom Brantley (fiddle, mandolin and bass vocals), Alicia Nugent (harmony vocals) and a host of ‘shouters’ – Ms. Nugent, Brantley, Miss Dixie Hall, Melissa Lawrence, Becky Lawrence, Cari Norman, Paula Wolak, Clemons and Norman.
It is pleasing to see groups now mining the Dudley Connell song catalogue. The Soul Pickers open with a rousing rendition of God’s Not Dead – “I can feel Him all over me.” The opening bars are sung a cappella before Anderson drives the song on with a high degree of finesse that belies his youthfulness.
Prepare To Meet Eternity has a haunting, simple melody where instrumentally less is more, ensuring the lyrics have the right impact; “Remember friends as you pass by, As you are now so once was I, As I am now so you must be, Prepare to meet Eternity.” What beautifully crafted words. Josh Ogle’s other contribution, Ain’t That Just Like God notes the many virtues of our saviour, the things that He does for us “If we will only call Him and believe.”
Another well-crafted song with a simple melody is the title song. Tom T Hall’s way with words is well noted and the Miss Dixie – Tom T combination excels yet again. It’s a typically driving Southern gospel number.
One of the smoother performances, Can You Imagine, penned by Ricky Graves, asks you to put yourself in the place of our Saviour. With finger-picked guitar, mandolin and keening fiddle, it is an excellent example of the less is more philosophy.
The last track, He Loves To Hear You Shout, will be familiar to Don Rigsby fans, but The Soul Pickers version is distinctly their own. It is one of three songs written by Tom T and Dixie Hall; one has Troy Engle collaborating. It has a ministerial lead and a congregational response; hence the ‘shouters’.
Those blessed ancient tones are very much in evidence in The Old Cross Roads, with Brantley’s fiddle a very strong feature on this song, as it is throughout. Another old favourite When I Wake Up is a standard quartet performed with conviction by four strong voices.
The CD is well-programmed with slower numbers interspersed with faster-tempo songs, like the old favourite I Am The Man, Thomas. Other up-tempo songs are Let’s All Shine and Second Coming, as is I Believe, a lesser-known song taken from the Del McCoury catalogue.
This is an exceptionally joyous Gospel CD with many superb songs and great arrangements. The pickers are allowed to shine, and shine they do, and the lead vocals and harmonies are suitably strong and certain.