As a follow-up to 2014’s well-received Dancin’ Annie, Bill Emerson & Sweet Dixie has released a compilation album of the group’s favorite Gospel tracks from their previous albums. The Gospel Side of Bill Emerson & Sweet Dixie pulls from the group’s three previous albums for Rural Rhythm, as well as their 2007 debut on Rebel Records, and also includes three newly recorded songs. Fans of the group and of traditional-leaning bluegrass Gospel should enjoy this twelve-track collection that features a wealth of top guest vocalists and musicians alongside the regular lineup of Sweet Dixie.
The three new songs include one newer track and two old favorites. What a Day, written by Pensacola, Florida-based preacher Dr. Peter Ruckman, is a cheerful number about accepting Jesus as one’s Savior with lead vocals from Linda Lay. Teri Chism, the bassist for Sweet Dixie, handles the lead on Fifty Miles of Elbow Room. Chism’s voice has a classic, rich Southern Gospel tinge to it here, which suits the song well. Drifting Too Far from the Shore is one of the album’s best tracks. Steve Thomas’s vibrant fiddles match Lauren Mears’s clear, sweet vocals perfectly, while Emerson and Jimmy Gaudreau provide tasteful instrumental backup on banjo and mandolin.
Wayne Taylor (of Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa) provides one of the most enjoyable versions of the Carter Family favorite Keep on the Sunny Side of Life that I’ve heard recently. The song’s arrangement leans toward the acoustic country side of things, with a determined, frank reading by Taylor. Last Night I Was There is an excellent Pete Goble song with a solid traditional sound that finds the singer telling of a dream about heaven. Another highlight comes from Thank Him for the Miracle, which offers an encouraging message about the power of salvation.
Little Stone Lambs has more of a contemporary sound than most of the rest of the album, with a stripped back arrangement focusing on Tom Adams’s guitar and Gaudreau’s mandolin. From the pens of Carl Jackson and Tim Stafford, it’s a touching, sentimental song about children who are gone too soon. On almost the opposite end of the bluegrass Gospel spectrum is Beautiful, featuring a fine vocal performance from Randy Waller, which sounds like something Emerson might have recorded early in his career.
Even though the songs are pulled from several different albums and cover several versions of the band and numerous guests, there is a cohesive feel thanks to Emerson’s always classy banjo playing and the focus on songs that aren’t familiar hymns or traditional favorites from the public domain. Overall, The Gospel Side of Bill Emerson & Sweet Dixie is both a strong compilation album and a strong album in general.
For more information about Bill Emerson & Sweet Dixie, visit the group’s website online. The new album can be purchased from several online music retailers.