Rodney Dillard (left) and The Dillard Band: Spreading ‘Mayberry Values’ throughout the land
Message Deliver, Loud And Clear, With Power To Spare
By David McGee
DON’T WAIT FOR THE HEARSE TO TAKE YOU TO CHURCH
Rodney Dillard & The Dillard Band (Featuring Beverly Dillard)
Rodney Dillard is a man of faith who travels the country playing churches and bringing what he calls his “Mayberry Values” ministry to others via personal testimonies, video clips, personal testimonies drawn from his own and others’ experiences in the spiritual realm. It can be argued that other than Andy Griffith himself, few others could claim Dillard’s authority in espousing the homespun civility on display every week in The Andy Griffith Show, since Dillard was one of the famed Darlings mountain music band that Sheriff Andy engaged in regular displays of virtuoso picking and soulful singing.
Beverly and Rodney Dillard
You don’t particularly have to believe in Mayberry Values to enjoy Don’t Wait For the Hearse To Take You To Church, but when it’s all over you might want to; at the very least, you’ll be moved, regardless of whether you start rethinking your spiritual orientation, or lack thereof. Fully invested in their texts, Rodney, he of the clear, sturdy tenor, and Beverly, with an earthy alto, carry the vocal load with readings as deeply felt as they are lively and rhythmically charged. Instrumentally the assembled multitude is nothing short of awesome, with Beverly on banjo along with Steve Bush (who also pitches in on guitar, mandolin and bass); Dillard, along with Tim Crouch, on guitar (like Bush, Crouch is a multitasker, also playing fiddle); George Giddens, Bruce Hoffman and Crouch on fiddle; mandolin by Giddens, Crouch and Bush; Dillard on dobro; Bush and Marty Wilhite on bass; and Pete Generous on percussion. Impeccable as their playing is, all of these musicians impress in the ensemble lineup by virtue of the sheer feeling informing their instrumental support. You might say they play with Dillards Values, meaning with the spirit and commitment the original Dillards displayed in those Andy Griffith encounters.
The Dillards as The Darlings on The Andy Griffith Show, performing ‘Doug’s Tune,’ with Denver Pyle as Briscoe Darling Jr., the family patriarch, on jug, Doug Dillard on banjo, Rodney Dillard on guitar, Dean Webb on mandolin and Mitch Jayne on bass.
The bill of fare here is comprised of a few contemporary songs and a healthy heaping of traditional, public domain evergreens with new coats of paint expertly applied by these gifted pickers and singers. The album opening title track, by Dave Lindsey Michael Keith, is a friendly, toe-tapping, fiddle-fired advisory featuring an avuncular vocal by Rodney, who counsels getting right with God while you’re still upright and breathing, since such an option may well be closed off after you’ve punched your ticket off this mortal coil. Beverly has a wonderful moment in delivering a tender reading (she sounds a lot like a Forrester Sister here) of Boyd & Helen McSpadden’s “Heaven,” an anticipatory homage made doubly potent by its tasty, low-key fiddle and mandolin accompaniment. Bruce Haynes’s “The Devil Just Can’t Knock Me Off My Knees” allows everyone a chance to cut loose, with Rodney shouting out his triumph over temptation as the banjo, fiddle and brush drums sprint hard behind him to a rousing finale.
Rodney Dillard and The Dillard Band, featuring Beverly Dillard on banjo, cuts loose on Molly O’Day’s ‘When My Time Comes To Go’ at the John Hartford Memorial Festival, June 3, 2011. The song is featured on the band’s new album, Don’t Wait For The Hearse To Take You To Church
Outstanding performances all, are these, but the familiar fare has a unique power of its own in these hands. A spare but swinging rendition of “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms,” with the old warhorse re-energized by evocative, cascading harmonies and tasty fingerpicked acoustic guitar over a mandolin chop supporting Rodney’s strong, ringing vocal; this proves an ideal setup for the barnburning bluegrass charge of the Carter Family’s “Gospel Ship,” with Beverly’s assertive vocal shadowed by the banjo’s eager rush alongside her—a jubilant moment matched later on when the band rips and roars through the great Molly O’Day’s “When My time Comes To Go” with its eager anticipation of being welcome and reborn in the afterlife. Beverly leads the exuberant vocalizing as Rodney follows along with buoyance to match, as the arrangement opens up for frisky banjo and fiddle solos that make wild twists and turns before Beverly returns for another verse and the whole proposition comes to a walloping close. Fittingly, the music ends with Rodney delivering a quiet, vocal-and-fingerpicked guitar rendition of “Softly and Tenderly,” another beloved old-timer of a song but one realized in a spare setting suitable for magnifying the wisdom of the lyrics’ message of invitation. The album ends with four short segments of “Mayberry Values” moments, anecdotes illustrating how the good folks of the small town solved their particular moral dilemmas in a healthy manner. These likely work well in Dillard’s stage show, where they can be massaged into a set’s narrative flow, but in this context the music needs no extra help in getting its message across—Rodney, Beverly and the Dillard Band make sure it comes through loud, clear and with power to spare.