When Brentwood first released this gospel-bluegrass album in 1993, Claire Lynch had no professional identity as such. But now, with two mainstream progressive-bluegrass albums behind her (1995's Moonlighter, 1997's Silver and Gold) and a reputation as a solid, humble talent in a field where the soft and proud predominate, she's a Christian with a context: if "Moonlighter" and "Silver and Gold" made her world seem wide, this now makes it seem deep.
Not that "Friends..." itself is narrow. The variety in sources (two hymns, four she wrote or co-wrote, six she didn't), topics (songs to her parents and her infant, Biblical narratives), and sidemen (Jerry Brown, Shelton Feazell, and less-famous but equally accomplished pickers and grinners) broadens the album in small but important ways.
Best of all, Lynch knows how to play the bitter off against the sweet. Bysandwiching "My Name Is Judas" between the love song to her infant and a hymn and singing all three in a voice that's equal parts Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt, she gets more out of all three than most bluegrassers would. And the sweet-bitter interplay of voice, fiddle, and banjo does her vision justice.