It’s hardly surprising that Gospel music and bluegrass are often intertwined. After all, both are borne from core values that find faith and music sharing a common bond. The Gospel Plowboys convey those convictions through their mutual devotion, and indeed, with their third album, When the Crops Are Laid By, there’s no distance between the two. Each is plied convincingly while any and all pretence is put aside.
That said, there’s no claim here to a secular sound. Each of these offerings are offered in praise of a higher power. Likewise, there are other reasons as well. Founding member David Murph, who penned the closing track Heavenly Train, passed away in 2017, and earlier this year, the band bid farewell to their original banjo player, John Goodson. Their faith tested, The Gospel Plowboys appear more grateful to God than ever.
That of course is evident in each of these songs, though most are expressed in different ways. The collective harmonies, banjo, and fiddles on the celebratory opening track, When I Wake Up To Sleep No More, the tender testimonial, No One Ever Cared For Me Like Jesus, and the traditional-sounding folk- like ramble, When the Crops Are Laid By, all share the same sentiments but in different ways. The vintage Gospel standard, Don’t You Hear Jerusalem Moan, is performed in its traditional a cappella arrangement, adding an arcane approach to its reverent incantations. Likewise, the sway and cascade of The Lifeboat complements the rousing fiddling frenzy of Cryin’ Holy Unto the Lord, infusing the album with a sense of celebratory sentiment and the assured belief that Judgement Day is both divine and predestined.
Nevertheless, the most touching moment of the album comes with David Murph’s aforementioned Heavenly Train, and the brief reprise that marks one of his final performances. Given its promise of eternal life, it’s sung from a knowing perspective, hopeful and heroic all at the same time.
Regardless of one’s beliefs, it’s hard not to be moved by The Gospel Plowboys’ steadfast devotion, and the fervor with which they deliver it. When the Crops Are Laid By on Morning Glory Music conveys a sound that boasts promise aplenty. Even a skeptic could be assuaged.