Larry Cordle,
Give Me Jesus
(MightyCord, 2017)

Larry Cordle's day job is as a Nashville songwriter, which means writing for the charts and the financial rewards. His avocation is as bluegrass musician, which means doing it for the love of it. My favorite of his mainstream songs (written with Larry Shell) will always be "Murder on Music Row," a not quite tongue-in-cheek lament for the passing of traditional country. Sadly, that's a subject that since then has faded from polite conversation, at least within the music industry. Wistful talk of country's mid-century golden age is now judged sentimental or even bad for business. We're asked to live with it and not question it; "country" is to be seen only as a marketing niche.

Well, happily the fine art of bluegrass lives on, and Cordle sings it and writes it as well as anybody on the current scene. As the title leaves no doubt, Give Me Jesus is gospel-focused. Four of the songs are Cordell co-writes. Having grown up in the region, he's sincere in his Southern-evangelical allegiance. Larry Shell's liner notes report, "He publicly accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and was baptized 'back home in Kentucky,' within sight of his own Mother's Grave." You could write a Carter Family song about that.

One need not, of course, be religious to be touched by religious music. Wherever you land on that spectrum, it's hard not to like what Cordle does with a thoughtfully chosen selection of hymns and gospel songs, from stellar originals such as "The Old Thing's Walkin' About" and evergreens like the grand spiritual "The Old Ship of Zion." He's handling all the lead vocals except for Carl Jackson's "It's a Lonesome Road," sung movingly by someone boasting a weathered voice and the unlikely name of Lethal Jackson.

Speaking of unexpected names, I might mention Cordle and Shell's "This Blood's for You," clearly inspired by an advertising slogan for a popular -- if to this beer snob's judgment taste-challenged -- brew. Where theological issues are concerned, I have, as they say, no dog in the fight, so I'll leave it to others more qualified than I to debate if this is appropriately respectful or otherwise. It is an enjoyable song in the way of those old country tunes that used to have fun with advertising catch-phrases (e.g., "Please Don't Squeeze My Sharmon"). Heard simply as a catchy melody, Jackson's "God Had a Hand in It" is all right, though I must say my sympathies for its creationist sentiments lie on the minus side of zero.

Okay, I quibble. Even so, Give Me Jesus is the kind of solid, well-executed outing we've come to expect from Cordle. It delivers the message, but it also packs the sort of punch we bluegrass fans demand from the most accomplished of our artists, Larry Cordle undeniably among them.

music review by
Jerome Clark

20 May 2017

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