bluegrass now

September / October 1995


(compact disc)

(You Can't Hurry God) He's Right On Time/ Many Rivers/ Stumbling Blocks And Stepping Stones/ Don't You Want To Go To Heaven/ Little Moses/ Lone Pilgrim/Good News/ He's Coming Again So Soon/ Two HandsrThe Touch Of God's Hand/ l'll Not Be A Stranger When I Get Home/Sinner Man/ l've Just Seen The Rock Of Ages/ Let Us Cross Over The River.

All-gospel releases by established artists constitute a growing trend in the bluegrass industry; Robin and Linda Williams' Good News is an excellent example of this trend. Like so many bluegrass artists, the Willams began singing in churches and have included gospel numbers in their repertoire, and this release is a culmination of a wide variety of instrumental and vocal styles rendered in a gospel format.

Versatility (both in playing and singing) is the key to the artistic success of this album. A myriad of styles, from traditional gospel to Delta blues, are interwoven to produce an album that stretches the boundaries of bluegrass without going too far outside accepted norms. Instrumentally, a less-is-more approach is adopled that underscores and emphasizes the vocals, while still allowing some incredible playing. Kevin Maul, in particular, really shines with his dobro and slide guitar work on most of the cuts, and guests David McLaughlin (mandolin and fiddle) and harmonica player extraordinaire Peter "Madcat" Ruth add just the right touch to satiate any listener's thirst for instrumental prowess.

The playing alone warrants recommended listening, but the vocals are the true center piece of this release. Both of the Williamses are incredibly strong lead and harmony singers: Robin has a rich baritone voice equal to anyone in the business, and Linda has a powerful wine-dark alto voice that is quite different from most female bluegrass singers. The vocal arrangements are filled out by fellow band members Maul and bass player Jim Watson, and incorporate influences from outside traditional bluegrass. Three acapella numbers, "Don't You Want to Go to Heaven", "Sinner Man", and "He's Coming Again So Soon" rely heavily on African-American gospel techniques, and a sense of soul pervades the entire CD.

Virtually every song is a stand out performance; picking favorites boils down to the listener's particular tastes. The opening cut, "(You Can't Hurry God) He's Right on Time," sets the mood by mixing gospel, bluegrass, and blues, featuring fabulous slide guitar and harmonica work, and (setting up the fine instrumental interplay that characterizes this release. The Williamses' offer two originals: "Stumbling B1ocks and Stepping Stones" which feature uplifting Iyrics that avoid sounding cliched, as well as a nice guitar introduction by Robin Williams, and "Let Us Cross over the River", written for the Civil War musical "Stonewall Country".

A true sign of genuine talent is an artist's ability to transform traditional and cover tunes into something uniquely their own: the Williamses excel at this through their arrangements and performances. A.P. Carter's "Little Moses" and Steve Young's "Many Rivers" are given a sensitive treatment that belies the power of the songs. The traditional title cut, performed in a Delta blues style that sounds so "swampy" the listener can almost hear the mosquitoes buzzing in the background, is driven by Ruth's soulful harmonica. "I've Just Seen the Rock of Ages", arranged around Linda's banjo and McLaughlin's fiddle, sounds very Celtic. The harmony on "He's Coming Again So Soon" sneaks in quietly but explodes at the end of each verse; Linda's voice almost knocks the listener out of his chair with its power. The remaining cuts are more traditionally oriented, with Robin and Linda splitting the the vocaI duties over the somewhat sparse, but nonetheless excellent, backing tracks.

The power and finesse of the vocals, the instrumental virtuosity, the wide range styles in the arrangements, and the quality of the total package make Good News essential listening for fans of bluegrass gospel.

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