Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Gospel Greats Strum the Soul: Compilation, Cash Release Give Gospel Genre Its Due as Country Music's Muse

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Gospel Greats Strum the Soul: Compilation, Cash Release Give Gospel Genre Its Due as Country Music's Muse

Article excerpt

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and New Haven Records have compiled what they believe are the 20 best country gospel tunes. This compilation, "Country's 20 Classic Gospel Songs of the Century," is dense and storied, with insightful liner notes and an impressive roster of American music pioneers.

The connection between country music and religious music runs deep--down to the roots. In its infancy in the '20s, country music was the output of Southern artists who honed their craft in and around churches and family gatherings. When they began playing gigs and radio broadcasts, the bulk of country musicians' song catalogs often consisted of hymns and gospel songs. These performers drew inspiration and musical content from the social and spiritual bedrock of their rural upbringing: the church.

The Hall of Fame and New Haven personnel, with input from country radio professionals, narrowed the list to the 20 tracks contained on this album. Many deserving pieces hit the cutting room floor, but these 20 are not too shabby. The museum's senior historian, John Rumble, said: "It wasn't really that hard to come up with great performances and great songs. The hard part was deciding which 20 we were going to present."

Red Foley's version of "(There'll Be) Peace in the Valley (For Me)" is reason enough to buy the record. The Carter Family's "Can the Circle Be Unbroken" and Hank Williams' "I Saw the Light" are low-fidelity gems from country's early years.

Connie Smith's vocal magic on "How Great Thou Art" is majestic, and Patsy Cline nicely understates "Life's Railway to Heaven," with accompaniment from the Jordanaires.

Country greats Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard with the ubiquitous Carter Family, Tennessee Ernie Ford, the Stanley Brothers and Dolly Parton also show up on "Country's 20 Classic Gospel Songs of the Century:"

Newer arrivals Alison Krauss and Vince Gill open the album with "I Know Who Holds Tomorrow" and "Go Rest High on That Mountain," respectively. Both numbers are stirring, but recorded only a decade ago they lack the years and notoriety of, say, Jim Reeves' "In the Garden" or the dusty charm of Foley's "Valley."

Even--gasp--rock 'n' roll crossover artists Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley are among those chosen, Cash with "Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)," featuring the Carter Family, and Presley with the Jordanaires on the 1965 No. 3 pop hit "Crying in the Chapel." Both artists blurred the lines between gospel, rock 'n' roll and country, recording albums of all genres throughout their careers.

Earlier this year, a new Cash gospel record, "My Mother's Hymn Book," hit store shelves, featuring some of his last recorded work. …

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