january 2009

Ye Who Are Weary Come Home

Gaither Music Group
Executive Producers: Bill Gaither, Barry Jennings, Bill Carter
Spring House/EMI
Running Time: Volume One, 95 minutes; Volume Two, 90 minutes

In his introduction to this exhilarating gospel celebration, Bill Gaither sums it up best, saying: "This musical event brings together the very best of country, bluegrass and gospel music for a world-class celebration of our faith." Packed with favorite old hymns and spiced with a few new entries, such as the Gaither Vocal Band's wry "Jesus and John Wayne," the two volumes—one clocking in at 95 minutes, the other at 90 minutes—both kick off with note-perfect performances by the Gaither Vocal Band, who set the celebratory tone with "Child Forgiven" on Volume One and the aforementioned "Jesus and John Wayne" on Volume Two. In a low-key way, Bill Gaither dominates the proceedings, less with his music than with his presence: in between several of the performances he conducts interviews with members of his all-star Homecoming friends, all of which are genial and revelatory of the participants' deep feelings for gospel music, whereas their performances show their affinity for everything from solos to duets to southern quartet harmony. From Marty Stuart he elicits this unprompted anecdote: "The first time I ever felt the pure power of music was in the summer of 1964, Philadelphia, Mississippi, my home town. Three civil rights workers—Schwerner, Cheney, and Goodman—were killed. And the eyes of the world drew down upon our town. There were churches being bombed; people taking baseball bats and knives to church—fear, paranoia, confusion reigned down there. Life as I knew it went upside down. 'Til Saturday afternoon rolled around. And Porter Wagoner, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, and some of those 30-minute syndicated television shows would play in Mississippi. That was my day with my daddy, too; he was a factory worker, we got to hang out together. So Porter Wagoner and his cast would come on, and as bad as it seemed outside, the joy of their music, the happiness—and he touched on everything, from gospel music to recitations, to fiddle tunes, to banjo tunes, to Grand Ole Opry stars. But when they went off the air it was almost like a tangible hole I could feel. And so last year—it felt like a divinely ordered project—I produced a record on Porter Wagoner. He'd just turned 80 years old. It was his 'victory lap' record. And I got to work with Gordon Mote on that record, and I found out that Gordon Mote is crazy; he's wonderfully crazy. He fit right in. He could do Porter Wagoner better than Porter Wagoner. We got to know each other and be buddies right there, and I will forever respect Gordon Mote. What a great treasure he is." That's the kind of reflections Gaither summons in his interviews, and in that bit of reminiscence and perspective Stuart not only reveals something of his own soul, but tips his hat to one of contemporary gospel's rising stars in Gordon Mote, who's featured on both DVDs. It's a beautiful moment, and it only gets better when the scene cuts back to the music and Mote does an astonishing Porter Wagoner impersonation in introducing Marty and his Superlatives, who then perform a deep, bluesy reading of "There's a Rainbow At The End Of Every Storm," with Mote adding some tasty organ licks to the soulful testifying, which is deep enough to inspire awestruck whoops from the audience, especially when "Handsome" Harry Stinson adds his high tenor cries to the vocal mix.

High spirits and reverential solemnity go hand-in-hand in this homecoming celebration. The assembled friends amount to a Who's Who of established and ascendant stars. The veterans are represented powerfully by the likes of George Jones, Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys and Ben Speer (who both brings down the house and brings it to its collective feet with his stirring rendition of "Time Has Made a Change"); established country and bluegrass artists of the top rank form the heart of the lineup, including Vince Gill (whose "Tell Me One More Time About Jesus" on Volume Two is worth the price of admission alone), Larry Sparks & The Lonesome Ramblers, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, the aforementioned Marty Stuart; and the young upstarts nearly steal the show, with the Grascals (who offer a stirring rendition of "Farther Alone" as a bonus feature on Volume Two), Cherryholmes, The Isaacs, Dailey & Vincent (who perform, among other numbers, their SPBGMA Bluegrass Award-nominated Song of the Year, "By the Mark") and the energetic Ernie Haase & Signature Sound proving by the force of their convictions that the circle indeed remains unbroken. It's hard to imagine any gospel celebration offering more life or more meaningful performances than these. Powerful stuff.

In addition to the DVDs, the music of Country Bluegrass Homecoming is available on two CDs as well, each containing two less songs than the videos. Still, at 20 songs each, or 40 on the two discs, the bang for the buck can't be beat. —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