Certain people own certain catchphrases. Bart Simpson and ‘cowabunga’ are inextricable. No one can utter ‘mother$#@*%&’ with quite the authority of Samuel L. Jackson. And if there’s any justice on earth, the phrase ‘heavenly harmonies’ shall hereby and henceforth be allocated to the sublime vocals of Jamie Dailey And Darrin Vincent.
Dailey And Vincent are well-known in the bluegrass world, where, along with home and heartbreak, faith forms one of the genre’s cornerstones. Here, though, they expand the instrumental palette beyond the relatively restricted all-acoustic standard. There’s piano, percussion, and both a string section and a brass section – instrumentation literally unheard of in the traditional format. Yet there’s no denying the bluegrass roots that inform the duo’s harmonies or the blazing, intricate picking that’s also central to the genre. The core of the sound remains acoustic – there’s still lots of guitars, as well as dobro, mandolin, banjo and fiddle. But the additional elements, combined with a handful of background vocalists, results in a big, full sound that’s far removed from the front porch.
As the name suggests, this is an all-gospel collection, and faith is front and center. But when the music is this good and performances this stellar, whether one believes or not becomes a bit of a moot point; just as we can hear and bop along to pop songs without really paying attention to the subject matter, this collection is stirring and uplifting in ways that transcend the lyrical message.
In short, one doesn’t have to believe to believe in the performances here – the songs themselves are sturdy and melodic, most taken from composers who flourished mid-century rather than older traditional songs. There’s one each by Buck Owens (Eternal Vacation) and Willie Nelson (Family Bible), with Dolly Parton (Welcome Home) and Carl Perkins (Daddy Sang Bass) represented as well – in fact, only one tune is ‘traditional.’ Yet there’s a truly timeless quality to every track, in part due to the eternal verities of the subject material, but equally attributable to the uncanny blend and exquisite harmonies of the two lead vocals. Both Dailey and Vincent sing with unaffected ease, but when their voices blend together the results are simply stunning.
And then there’s the band’s secret weapon – newest member Christian Davis and his deeper-than-deep, lower-than-low bass voice, that old-timey element that anchors the vocal bottom. It’s put to excellent effect throughout, most prominent on “Noah Found Grace In The Eyes Of The Lord,” a bit of a novelty tune that bears repeated listening as a musical marvel – the combined, alternating vocals are simply breathtaking. Elsewhere there’s a brief ‘special guest appearance’ by Johnny and Carolyn Vincent, a snatch of “Rock Of Ages’ that acts as a bit of a coda to “Family Bible,” scratchy and old-timey. In other hands it might be gimmicky; here it just seems to illustrate how this music is passed down, generation to generation, enduring precisely because it’s heartfelt and as honest as dirt.
By virtue of the subject material, gospel is a rather ‘targeted’ music – it’s not unreasonable to assume that unbelievers simply won’t be moved. Message aside, though, this is a joyous, musically adventurous, impeccably produced and exquisitely performed collection of superb songs that come from the heart and aim straight for the soul. It’s hard to imagine anyone remaining entirely unaffected, even if it’s only vicariously – the music here is infectious and irresistible enough to satisfy even secular listeners.
Very highly recommended to one and all, regardless of belief - it’s that good!