It is somewhat of a tradition in bluegrass for artists to do the occasional all-gospel album; while Minneapolis-based musician Ellen Stanley, a/k/a Mother Banjo, isn't strictly a bluegrass or old time artist, she's close enough to be a natural with the more spiritual fare on this new collection of originals and familiar songs of faith that draws from the Carter Family tradition while injecting modern indie-folk sensibilities into the mix.
Stanley's previous albums have all been mostly solo affairs, this time around she enlisted enough of an ensemble to add the "Band" suffix, and the expanded lineup serves the material well, especially on mellow versions of Go Tell It On The Mountain and Wade In The Water, the former approaching a jug band sound complete with washboard and the latter showing off a more languid, bluesy side of Stanley's voice and some appropriately eerie group harmonies on the chorus. Another notable cover is Any Way I Do, a song from the late Dave Carter that has been a staple of folk duo Danny Schmidt and Carrie Elkin's sets on their last couple of tours.
Stanley is a songwriter as well as a song interpreter, and even working within the limits of the gospel genre doesn't dull her skills. New addresses spiritual rebirth with a nature metaphor, while No Waiting presents a Unitarian viewpoint of finding God in each other.
The most uplifting and memorable song comes nearly at the close of the album with Witness, a more piano-driven ballad that echoes the mantra-like pattern of Steve Earle's Pilgrim in its lyrical refrain, "We are witness...." In most religions, being a witness means to carry the message of faith to others, and show it in yourself; Stanley and the Mother Banjo Band are doing just that with this gospel set.