A decade after launching their career, and with five albums to their credit thus far, New River Bluegrass has emerged as one of the most proficient Gospel groups operating within today’s bluegrass environs. That certainly says something about their prowess, especially when considering the competition within that particular area of endeavor. Nevertheless, the band — Barry Long (banjo, dobro, vocals, and producer), Michael Johnson (acoustic guitar, vocals), Dwayne Brown (bass, vocals), Chuck Price (fiddle, vocals), Michael Mullins (mandolin, vocals), and Andy Smith (guitar, vocals) — share a certain sincerity, purity, and purpose that makes their melodies as affecting as they are enticing. Not surprisingly, there’s a clear conviction that resonates through their latest effort, There Was A Time, one that stirs the soul with faith, reverence, and an unwavering belief that there’s a higher purpose and power.
The group’s celebratory stance is apparent early on, from the fervent testimony of My Mind’s Made Up, and the reassuring refrain that rings through Faith of a Little Seed, through to the soothing, soul-stirring sounds of In the Lord’s Will Again, the a cappella reading given My Heavenly Home, and, inevitably, the tender tales of redemption evident in We’ll Work Till Jesus Comes and Welcome Home. The latter two songs are manifest as beautiful ballads, and while the message is unmistakable, the delicate designs offer the potential for winning them some wider appeal. Indeed, while New River Bluegrass’ Christian sentiments are echoed throughout, there’s nothing to say that they can’t find a secular following as well. With arrangements that regale with a cascade of fiddles, banjos, mandolins, and impeccable harmonies, There Was a Time is inevitably pure bluegrass at its best.
Of course, there’s always an extra additive found when message and music find common ground, and ring with both resolve and resilience. That’s the case here. It’s not surprising then that New River Bluegrass create a powerful impression, given their powerfully stated sentiments and uplifting approach. With the unsettled state of affairs that’s gripped the world since the start of the pandemic, it’s comforting to find an album that offers an optimistic outlook, one that not only bodes well for a better tomorrow, but also for what lies beyond this earthly plain as well.