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Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers

Sacred Memories – 2016 (Rebel)

Reviewed by Larry Stephens

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CDs by Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers

If Joe Mullins' name is on the CD you know you're going to hear good bluegrass. This all-gospel CD offers interesting perspectives. The Radio Ramblers (Mike Terry, mandolin/vocals; Jason Barie, fiddle; Duane Sparks, guitar/vocals; Randy Barnes, bass/vocals) with Mullins playing banjo provide the same excellent music whether on stage or on CD.

One of the highlights is the title song, composed by Dolly Parton for her 1974 "Love Is Like A Butterfly" LP. She included a few phrases of a number of well-known gospel songs such as "If We Never Meet Again" and "Power In The Blood." Joining the Ramblers on this track are Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White plus Charli Robertson and Kelsi Harrigill of Flatt Lonesome. That's an excellent choir. "Oh, Lord" is the voice of a prisoner facing death, asking Jesus to intervene because he wants to make his life right with God - surely an oft repeated request. Rhonda Vincent sings lead on "I Hope We Walk The Last Mile Together," a number that goes way back in time to Carl and Pearl Butler.

The pace picks up with "The Armor of My God," which features some good instrumental breaks and Randy Barnes' bass in the foreground. The late Randall Hylton was an excellent wordsmith. and his "The First Word In Heaven Is He" is ample proof of how he could take a simple idea and turn it into an excellent song. A trademark of the Ramblers is excellent harmony, and this CD adds to that reputation - these men are all good singers and combine their voices to add another dimension to their music. The closing number is an arrangement of "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" that you are unlikely to have heard before. Very often done at a fast tempo, it's done here at a more deliberate pace and with a harmony that is different than versions usually heard. Mullins works with the Isaacs - Rebecca, Sonya and Ben - on a memorable a capella versio.

Mullins remains one of the best and classiest acts in bluegrass.