Gospel music is not for everyone. Nor, let's face it, is bluegrass. So, a bluegrass gospel album is slicing things rather thin. Yet, bluegrass has a long tradition of incorporating and embracing its gospel side, starting with Bill Monroe himself. As historian Neil V. Rosenberg has written "Bluegrass gospel is a form of discourse about the sacred which occurs in the secular context."
Enter "Pull Your Savior In" by The Larry Stephenson Band. The Band has been going strong for a quarter century, featuring Stephenson's high lonesome vocals which are, standing alone, squarely within the bluegrass tradition. Under Ben Surratt's steady hand of production, this bluegrass gospel collection shines. Stephenson tells us in the liner notes that "This is only our 5th all gospel CD". Well it's pretty doggone good.
Kicking off with an a capella version of "Amazing Grace," you might fairly mutter to yourself "here we go again. The band embraces and enhances this bluegrass tradition with 11 more selections that combine traditional with newer compositions.
Stephenson carries the tenor part with grace and skill; his mates provide harmonic base and texture. As good as the harmonies are, the trueness of the work owes a great deal to vocal phrasing. It's not an easy task to echo traditional gospel sounds in a modern digital age. Standouts include Rick Stanley and Donna Ulisse's "Come To Jesus Moment," the Louvin Brothers' "Born Again" (successfully phrasing "born again" to rhyme with "free from sin") and "Thank God I'm On My Way," first written and recorded by Lester Flatt over 50 years ago. As the latter song says, "I want shake my savior's hand and hear him say 'well done'." The Larry Stephenson Band has hit the mark.