It’s telling that these archival recordings from the gospel duo John and Frances Reedy sound so fresh and vital even now, decades after they were originally recorded. Granted, the technology used to bring them to full fruition has something to do with it, but more importantly, it’s the earnest enthusiasm the couple exude throughout these 33 songs spread across the Yazoo Records set’s two discs that resonates so well. From the ’40s to the ’60s, the Reedys set the standard for gospel and bluegrass with a persuasive presentation that incorporated astute instrumentation, emotive vocals, and an all-round sense of credence and commitment.
The pair also had a marked influence on such early bluegrass pioneers as Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe, and Roy Acuff, but sadly, wider recognition eluded them during their lifetime. Kudos, then, to Yazoo Records for reviving their music with this handsome two CD set bearing not only a wealth of great music, but a 20 page booklet that shares their story in exacting detail. Moreover, stirring songs such as Somebody Touched Me, St. John, Mighty Hand of God, and Knocking On Your Door (the latter being one of the few secular songs), and the beautiful balladry of Summer Is Gone, allow for a genuinely moving encounter, and one that resonates well beyond any initial listen.
The Reedys were clearly unshakeable in their faith and fervor, but so too, their’s was a delivery that helped establish a timeless tapestry that remains intact even to the present day. The trumpets included on the aforementioned Summer Is Gone, the sparkling piano pied within I Just Dropped By, the sprightly mandolin that illuminates I Feel Jesus, the shimmering fiddle finesse of You Take One Step, He’ll Take Two, and, in fact, the rousing revelry so evident overall creates an energy and exuberance that rings and regales well within a contemporary context.
Granted, there’s a clear divide that separates saints from sinners, and each of these songs bow to that higher purpose. Nevertheless, the faith and flourish shared here remains quietly compelling. As a result, it’s all but impossible to resist the clarion call of songs such as Walking the Same Road, That’s the Man I’m Looking For, and Poor People, among the many.
And it is reputed that Ralph Stanley was inspired to record O Death after hearing John and France’s version.
One might even dare to speculate that in this case, even agnostics might well agree.