When considering the Christian music scene in general, it's easy to forget the different off-shoots of it. One of these oft-overlooked channels is bluegrass. Take Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, for example. They may not have gained much notoriety among general audiences, yet in bluegrass circles they've recently won Song of the Year and Entertainers of the Year from the International Bluegrass Music Association in 2019. Now, Mullins and the Ramblers are back with Somewhere Beyond the Blue on Billy Blue Records.
It becomes clear from the opening track that this is a bluegrass album, as the opener "Hear Jerusalem Calling" gives you a taste of mandolin before the rest of the group joins in. All the components are here; the banjo gets plucked melodically, the acoustic guitar keeps the rhythm except for the occasional solo, the fiddle keeps things lively in the higher register, while the upright bass fills in the lower. The particular highlight was hearing the fiddle take over the lead lines on some songs. It helped add a more classic country twinge to the sound. While the genre in general tends to sound the same after a while, Mullins and company do their best to make things feel fresh. "You Gotta Get Down" and a surprise cover of "Untitled Hymn" are given a cappella treatment. Meanwhile, "I'm Never Alone" switches the tempo up for the chorus. The closer, "Perfect Healing," skews a little into straight-up ballad territory. Clearly an effort was made to make Somewhere Beyond the Blue a creative listening experience.
If the album as a whole sounds like a standard bluegrass album, its message is also pretty standard. The gospel is peppered in on every track. Sometimes it's a straight telling of the gospel story ("Hear Jerusalem Calling"), other times it's a challenge to go tell others ("Go Spread the Gospel"). At one point, the Ramblers even get a little feisty and call out the leniency that modern culture falls into regarding salvation ("There's No New Way Home"). Of course, in the mix are songs about our heavenly home, like "Perfect Healing" and the standout "Living Left to Do."
For fans of bluegrass, whether avid or casual, there's something comforting in the stirring sounds of the genre. Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers tap into that comfort with Somewhere Beyond the Blue. This is a group that wants to live life fully for Jesus and that passion comes through in their song choices and performance. Those itching for the feeling only bluegrass can evoke should give Mullins and his Ramblers a chance.- Review date: 9/8/21, written by John Underdown of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Billy Blue Records
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