Mountain Fever Records has a good thing going over in the hills of southern Virginia. With a roster that includes enduring favorites like Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice and Grasstowne along with a host of rising stars such as Mountain Faith, Volume Five, and Dave Adkins, the label consistently puts out music that is praised by radio and fans alike. One of their most recent additions is the Gospel Plowboys, a six-piece band based in Salisbury, North Carolina. They’ve just released their second album (their first for Mountain Fever), a traditional-leaning bluegrass Gospel record titled Welcome Home.
One of the signature aspects of bluegrass Gospel music (and Southern Gospel, for that matter) over the years has been closely-knit harmonies, often in a trio or quartet format. From the first few seconds of opening track, Dearest Friend, it’s obvious that the Gospel Plowboys have their vocals down pat. The singers seem to be effortlessly mixing their voices, with the different parts gliding in and out flawlessly. It’s good stuff, as is the a capella closing track It is Well With My Soul, which offers a wonderful vocal arrangement.
Several songs here will be familiar to almost all listeners. Bill and Gloria Gaither’s Because He Lives has become a popular hymn both onstage and in churches. The version here has simple, gentle instrumentation (with nice country-style fiddle from guest Ron Stewart), but the group sings the number with great conviction; you know they really mean it when they sing “life is worth the living just because He lives.” There’s also a peppy Daniel Prayed, with a nice mandolin intro from David Murph. It falls somewhere between the Stanley Brothers’ cut and the more recent Patty Loveless recording, with a good modern traditional sound.
On the more contemporary side of things is the title track, an acoustic country-leaning number written by Billy Fields. It’s a well-written song about being welcomed into heaven and what might await us there. The vocals are, yet again, spot on. The earnest Lord I’ll Go On for You has a similar feel, and finds the singer declaring that no matter how bad things get, he will hold fast to his faith because he knows the Lord will always be there for him. Saved by the Blood has a joyful, praise song vibe, with lyrics thanking God for salvation.
Red River, a traditional hymn, is a highlight of the album. Like several of the songs here, the instrumentation is stripped down, allowing the lyrics (and the vocals) to be the star of the song. The “red river” of the title refers to Jesus’s blood, and the singer shares his thankfulness that it covers his sins: “each time I’ve faltered and cry in my shame, then the red river flows o’er my name.” Bill Castle’s The Dream, which listeners may remember from IIIrd Tyme Out’s recording several years back, is another standout. Castle is an excellent songwriter, and this is a moving number.
Welcome Home is a very strong major label debut from a group that features some of the clearest, smoothest voices you’re likely to hear in today’s bluegrass Gospel. The band members – Andrew Brown (upright bass), David Brown (guitar), David Murph (mandolin), John Goodson (banjo), Kris Miller (guitar), and Michael Jenkins (lead guitar) – all seem to be solid musicians as well, and definitely have a heart for the type of music they’re performing. They fill the songs with a strong sense of faith in God and belief in the message they’re sharing. Fans of bluegrass Gospel will want to take a listen.
For more information on the Gospel Plowboys, visit their website at www.gospelplowboys.com. Their new album can be purchased from several music retailers.