While many of us think of hymns as the traditional, organ or piano accompanied songs we grew up singing in church, bluegrass musicians have long made a habit of adapting these sacred numbers to fit their style of music. One of the most recent additions to the bluegrass Gospel catalog comes from Travis Alltop, a guitarist and vocalist who is also the pastor of Bluegrass Pike Baptist Church in Danville, Kentucky. Alltop’s contribution comes in the form of his second album of hymns, entitled The Hallelujah Side.
This fourteen song collection includes several popular, frequently recorded hymns, as well as a few which most listeners won’t be quite as familiar with. The songs here are traditional and earnest, with solid vocal and instrumental performances all around. Alltop, who performed with Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike in the late ’90s and early 2000s, is joined by several talented friends, including Andy Leftwich (fiddle and mandolin), Darrin Vincent (bass and harmony vocals), Rachel Leftwich (harmony vocals), and Jim Britton (banjo and Scruggs style guitar).
The album opens with an upbeat, banjo-guided Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, which also features nice harmonies and melody-driven instrumental solos. Another nice upbeat piece with a similar feel is Nothing But The Blood, which includes Leftwich’s cheerful fiddling throughout. Leftwich also offers fine fiddling on the more country-tinged What a Friend We Have in Jesus.
One of the few newer songs on the album is Paul Brewster’s It Is Finished, done in a fine bluegrass Gospel style. Alltop’s lead vocals are smooth and strong as he relates this reminder of the power of salvation. Power in the Blood also has a classic feel, complete with Britton’s take on Scruggs style guitar. Another enjoyable track, and one of the album’s best, is I Wasn’t There. It’s easy to hear the heartfelt emotion in Alltop’s voice as he sings of Jesus’s crucifixion, “I wasn’t there, but I know that Jesus still lives.”
The album also includes three nicely done instrumental versions of well-known hymns. Just As I Am is a thoughtful fiddle and guitar number, while There is a Fountain is done as a banjo tune in a straightforward traditional bluegrass style. The album comes to a close with an excellent, reverent (although brief) Amazing Grace.
Even though many of the songs included here are over a century old, Alltop and his fellow musicians make them fresh and enjoyable. For the most part, the songs retain their traditional arrangements and feel, but sometimes reinterpretation isn’t necessary. Fans of traditional bluegrass Gospel should certainly give The Hallelujah Side a listen.
For more information on Alltop, visit his music ministry’s website at www.lowerlightsministry.com. His new album can be purchased there, or from CDBaby or iTunes.