I grew up with Gospel music. It was everywhere around me. Our church, a Brethren assembly, sang from two hymn books. The Sunday morning one was called The Believer’s Hymn Book and on Sunday evenings we all sang from Redemption Songs. It was the evening version I loved more. It was a treasure trove containing big, joyful choruses and catchy refrains all designed to affirm faith and/or drive the seeking soul towards salvation. There would be Hymns asking questions, “Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?,” hymns of encouragement ‘Trust and obey,” or the gory but affirmative, “fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins.”
As we grew up and the modern ways set in the young people of the church rather turned their nose up at some of these old hymns which had found favour with the revival meetings of the early part of the century. Some of these had been brought over by American Evangelists who also wrote the lyrics and music. The most famous team had been Sankey and Moody whose combination of preaching and singing left a lasting repertoire which formed a good deal of the hymnal in mission halls and tent meetings for the best part of the next century.
It was in this context I first heard Willie Nelson’s ‘The Troublemaker,’ an album of hymns and sacred songs arranged by Willie and the family which brought a new energy to the old chestnuts I’d heard since I was knee high. Looking back now, Willie was only following a great country tradition of recording Christmas albums and sacred albums where the artists would put their own spin on a familiar repertoire. That the tradition still exists would be a mild understatement. Only in the last year there have been more Gospel albums added to the groaning pile already in the vaults. Brent Cobb and Carrie Underwood have recently cut their own sacred recordings and in recent years Alan Jackson has brought out two volumes of faith filled songs. All of which is a delight to me, as the repertoire rarely goes too far beyond the classic hymns I learned to sing as a lad.
As it’s Holy Week we thought we’d celebrate this great tradition once more. We’ve cast our net a little wider and we will bring you some fine interpretations from George Jones, Breland, Flatt & Scruggs and Dolly Parton. We’ll also disappear down a couple of interesting rabbit holes in our desire to update you with all that is good in current country music. It all starts at five past eight on BBC Radio Scotland this Tuesday evening or any time or place of your choosing from that time onwards on BBC Sounds. Do join me if you can.