october 2008

Paul Williams & The Victory Trio
Rebel Records

Bluegrass gospel on an exalted plane, Paul Williams & The Victory Trio's What a Journey is a stirring message of faith and salvation with a pronounced uplifting spirit about it. That is to say, the album's 13 songs seem to have been selected with an eye towards making a statement about the beauty of life on earth and the promise of greater rewards in the afterlife. Williams, his keening tenor at its most expressive here, sings not of death approaching as a thief in the night, but rather as a matter of fact, a necessary step on the road to gloryland that necessitates neither fearful warnings nor melancholic resignation. No, What a Journey celebrates life and the joy of experiencing "a miracle everywhere you go," as he asserts in Tom T. and Dixie Hall's wonderful, like-titled ballad that reminds believers to pay attention, because "sometimes you're blessed/and you don't even know." In two captivating reminiscences of family life, the joyous, driving "Back To the Old Home" and the lilting, close-harmonized bluegrass of "My Mother's Bible," the sadness attending the absence of departed parents is leavened by the near-palpable gratitude these songs express for the enduring values the folks passed on, both in words and deeds, and in the passages underlined in a well-worn copy of the Good Book. Gerald Sweatman's "I Went Down a Beggar But I Came Up a Millionaire" is given a stately, gentle treatment by the ensemble as Williams lends dignity to the story of a man with little to show for his earthly existence but is buoyed by the knowledge of the spiritual wealth he's gained-and will continue to reap in Heaven—after giving his life to Christ.

Williams, one of the great gospel singers in bluegrass history, has an ample share of powerful moments here, but he yields the stage on occasion to Dan Moneyhun, who not only plays solid guitar throughout but takes memorable lead vocal turns on five cuts, including "Back To The Old Home" and "My Mother's Bible," and also on the celebratory invitation to sit at the Lord's table, "Come and Dine," on Linda King's exultant affirmation of Heaven's abundant riches in "Beyond The Vast Horizon," and in leading a spirited charge through Corbin Ashe's album closing celebration of the victory inherent in Judgment Day, "Hallelujah Morning." In addition to Moneyhun, Adam Winstead rounds out the Victory Trio on rhythm guitar (and baritone vocals), with Jerry and Susie Keys providing able support on banjo and bass, respectively, and Keith Williams excelling with his personable fiddle work. Given how much of the album's narratives center on the joys of life after death, perhaps Paul Williams's greatest achievement this time around is in making us feel good to be alive, right here, right now, to enjoy the spiritual revival he offers in song.—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024