A beautiful thing happens in the intersection of banjo, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bass, a strong lead man and Jesus. The sweet, strains of bluegrass harmony are uniquely suited to reflecting the constant tug in the heart of God’s children towards the promised Kingdom to come. James King, a leading voice in traditional bluegrass music has offered up his first all gospel compilation.
Gardens in the Sky combines King’s gospel tracks from his own previous recordings contributions to other albums – most notably The Stanley Gospel Tradition – Songs About Our Saviour – and previously unreleased material to make up this winning compendium. King’s songs weave together the familiar elements of bluegrass gospel tunes: faithful mothers, daddies, family bibles, deceased relatives, the local church, worshipping the Lord and a desperate longing for heaven.
Opening with the up-tempo “Will He Wait a Little Longer,” King had me up and on my feet within the first few bars – easily the most likely contender for play at a community barn dance. The remainder of the album is much more reflective, with occasional bright spots that pick up the pace, such as the classic acapella warning to sinners “It’s Hot Down Here.” The albums mood ranges from melancholy to sweet assurance, and throughout listeners can easily detect the ongoing thread of the heart’s ongoing desire to meet with the saviour, to be reunited with loved ones who have gone on before.
The traditional song “Garden in the Sky” – the album’s namesake – is a sweet song of acceptance into the arms of Jesus, reassuring loved ones who remain, while still plucking the heartstrings of any parent. Other inclusions such as “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” are classics in the making with a hidden meaning that is only revealed at songs end.
A most curious addition to the album is “Jerusalem Tomorrow.” While the song hearkens back to the early Christian church, King’s rendition calls up images of the southern Bible belt. There the lyrics could as easily be applied to religious charlatans without Jesus in their life, as the false healer in Israel.
Of course no bluegrass disc would be complete without the smooth harmonies found throughout, most notably on “I Just Steal Away and Pray,” “Don’t Worry Mama,” which features the single female voice – Rhonda Vincent – on the CD, and “Voice of My Saviour.” But truly there are too many excellent examples to mention them all.
King’s vocal stylings are humble and unpretentious; relying upon his steady, grounded voice that consistently delivers both songs of praise, warnings of judgment and simple odes that reflect the Christian life. Warm, rich and full of life King’s voice is earthy, deep and true. He contributes a genuine salt-of-the-earth and son-of-the-hills flavor to the recording. With solid performances all around Gardens in the Sky is a classic disc that listeners will reach for time and again.
1. Will He Wait A Little Longer
2. The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn
3. I Just Steal Away and Pray
4. Daddy Doesn't Pray Anymore
5. Garden In The Sky
6. Jerusalem Tomorrow
7. It's Hot Down Here
8. Sweeter than the Flowers
9. Don't Worry Mama
10. The Touch of God's Hand
11. These Old Pictures
12. Just as the Sun Went Down
13. Message for Peace
14. Angels are Singing (In Heaven Tonight)
15. The Prettiest Flowers Will Be Blooming
16. Voice of My Savior
17. Will You Feel at Home
18. Happy I'll Be