Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver,
Gospel Parade
(Sugar Hill, 2001)

Over the past few years, Doyle Lawson and his band have been playing less bluegrass gospel and more Southern white gospel, a musical genre that has never moved me. With this album, the shift continues unabated, and fans of such bluegrass classics as Rock My Soul and nearly all of Lawson's albums (excepting the recent and syrupy Just Over in Heaven) may be disappointed by the seemingly inexorable change.

The album starts out well enough, with a fine up-tempo bluegrass song followed by a close harmony ballad with a nice hook, but "Gloryland Boogie" gives a hint of what's to come with its piano introduction. Still, it's a bouncy number, with some novel vocals, and its 2:13 playing time zips by quickly. "I Heard Zion Moan" is a traditional a cappella song, of the type Quicksilver is so adept at.

And then we hit "Movin' Up," with Barry Scott's rinky-tink piano introduction, and Quicksilver falls into a rump-tump rump-tump rhythm that is the antithesis of swinging bluegrass, laden with pianistic arpeggios and lock-step harmonies. It's the start of a long slide, with "I Have a Desire" next, a dragging song which reveals the vocal flaws of the group: a lack of strong lead vocalists and a tendency for the harmonies to drift on sustained tones. Thankfully the rhythm picks up on "Some of These Days," but the piano drives the song with an unmistakable cathouse rhythm and nary a string instrument in sight. "He Is Risen" gives us back a mandolin and fiddle, but they're smothered by the piano and a whining pedal steel. It isn't helped by Lawson's gritty lead vocal.

Then, thankfully, we're back into bluegrass gospel territory. The piano and pedal steel vanish in "The Heavenly Parade," a four-part song accompanied only by guitar, and "My Heavenly Home," an only average performance which sounds remarkably fresh in contrast to what's come before. The piano creeps back, however, with "He Knows How Much You Can Bear," although the CD ends with a straight-ahead bluegrass "Have You Met My Friend."

Your reaction to this CD will all depend on where your ears are. If you like gospel music -- all kinds of gospel music -- you'll probably enjoy it. If you like purely Southern white gospel, there's nothing in the bluegrass songs here that should rattle your ears. But if, like me, you find Southern gospel somewhat cloying, I suggest that you program this one to avoid the piano tracks. For the bluegrass fan, this CD is like a valley, with some highs at the beginning and end, but a precipitous dip in the center. I'm only as tough on it as I am because I've been a big fan of Lawson and Quicksilver for a long time. They used to be the best bluegrass gospel group around, but in too many tracks on this CD, they're just another bunch of white gospel singers. What does it profit a band to gain the gospel audience and lose its bluegrass soul? Apparently enough.

[ by Chet Williamson ]
Rambles: 30 December 2001

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