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Gardens In the Sky - The Bluegrass Gospel of James King

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Album Review

It may seem like James King's catalog isn't quite deep enough yet to justify a compilation, but this is actually a very effective and well-chosen program of gospel tracks taken from his own Rounder solo albums as well as his work with Longview, along with a couple of selections from the Doobie Shea collection The Stanley Gospel Tradition: Songs About Our Savior. The gospel genre offers an opportunity to recognize and appreciate even more fully the unique quality of James King's voice, which is darker and richer than the "high lonesome" bluegrass norm. Lonesome he is, but he sings in a lower register than is usually expected; on songs like "Garden in the Sky" (a dead-child tearjerker sung as a beautiful duet with Dudley Connell), the stark "Jerusalem Tomorrow," and the Southern gospel classic "Just as the Sun Went Down" his voice firmly anchors the reedy mountain harmonies that are provided by others. This being a bluegrass gospel compilation, there are a few inevitable moments of maudlin sentimentality (the line between emotion and spirit always being a fuzzy one in this particular tradition), most of them involving dying children and their mothers, but even those are consistently easy on the ear. There's nothing forward-looking or innovative here — just lots of good, solid, meat-and-potatoes bluegrass gospel music that is sure to feed the receptive heart and soul. Highly recommended.

Biography

Genre: Classical

With his 1993 solo album These Old Pictures, James King was established as a top-notch bluegrass vocalist. The album, however, was only the latest step in a musical career that had begun 14 years before. A featured member of Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys in the 1980s, King, who was raised in Virginia's Carroll County, grew up listening to bluegrass. His father, Jim King, had appeared on Roanoke television with Don Reno and Red Smiley as tenor vocalist and guitarist for the Country Cousins,...
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Gardens In the Sky - The Bluegrass Gospel of James King, James King
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