Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver,
Beyond the Shadows
(1986; Sugar Hill, 2004)

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver -- well, at least Lawson and the idea of Quicksilver -- celebrate 25 years as an entity in 2004. Lawson has a long bluegrass pedigree, starting in 1963 picking banjo for Jimmy Martin, next a stint as guitar player and mandolinist with J.D. Crowe.

Between 1971 and early 1979 he worked -- again on mandolin, now his main instrument -- with the Country Gentlemen. For some considerable while now, the Country Gentlemen have been Charlie Waller and whomever he is hiring at the moment -- always, admittedly, first-rate talent, usually at the beginning of a career. In that sense, Quicksilver, formed in 1979 and extant after numerous personnel changes, is to Lawson what the Gents are to Waller. For the rest of us, that amounts to a bluegrass farm team with a fantastically capable manager.

In any event, in celebration of the happy occasion of DL&Q's first quarter-century, Sugar Hill has reissued this 1986 gospel classic. That year the band consisted of Russell Moore (guitar), Scott Vestal (banjo) and Curtis Vestal (bass); Mike Auldridge contributes occasional dobro and steel-guitar underpinnings. Mostly, though, the emphasis is on more or less unaccompanied quartet singing. To my hearing, this works to particularly moving effect on the traditional hymn "Babylon's Falling," a truly powerful and memorable reading. Over the course of 12 songs, Lawson and Moore switch lead duties, also singing harmony with Scott Vestal's low tenor and baritone and Curtis Vestal's bass vocals.

The title is borrowed from a Martha Carson tune, from one point of view (Christian) an affirmation of life in heaven, from another (secular) a gloomy meditation on the suffering that torments us in our earthly journey and the certain death that ends it. In other words, it has the existential resonance of an old mountain hymn rather than the upbeat, I-feel-the-spirit, modern country gospel that comprises some of the rest of DL&Q's repertoire. Beyond the Shadows is a thoughtful assortment of the two styles, and you'd have to be a whole lot fussier than I am to find anything to complain about. Even 18 years ago, Lawson had headlined or been a significant presence in an impressive number of good albums. Then as now, he was a pro, a man who loves his Lord and knows how to express that love with exquisite musical expression.

Really, what's not to like? At this stage of a distinguished career, praise for Lawson and his cohorts is surely redundant. "Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver" on a CD cover alone ought to be sufficient. And when it's a gospel recording -- well, a few may do it as well, but nobody does it better.

- Rambles
written by Jerome Clark
published 31 July 2004

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