Foggy Mountain Gospel
Over the course of their 19 years with Columbia Records (1950-69), Flatt & Scruggs cut 52 gospel tunes, all of which are collected on this powerful double-disc release. Rustic and mellow, Foggy Mountain Gospel carries its message of salvation and redemption on voices deeply invested in the sentiments these songs express. Nominally a bluegrass album, Foggy Mountain Gospel is indeed more about those voices than about flashy pickin' (although many of the songs prove to be splendid showcases for dobro maestro Josh "Buck" Graves). Lester Flatt's plainspoken tenor delivers a mighty punch in all its unadorned potency and is beautiful in harmonizing with Scruggs, Curly Seckler, and Jake Tullock; along the way, bass vocalist Paul Warren adds resonant, evocative fills, his every appearance being memorable and energizing. In addition to their original songs, Flatt & Scruggs span the decades in their cover choices, going back to the '30s for some ageless homilies but also assaying contemporary writers such as Tom T. Hall, whose jaunty "A Stone the Builders Refused," from 1966, also features a nod to mainstream country in the instrumental lineup thanks to harmonica virtuoso Charlie McCoy adding the slightest touch of moaning support in the arrangement. Two live cuts, "Let the Church Roll On" and the F&S original story-song "Paul and Silas," offer a taste of how moving these collective voices could be outside the studio, and how precise, nuanced, and impassioned their musicianship was in a concert setting. By turns jubilant and introspective, encompassing instructive story-songs, dramatic recitations, and time-tested wisdom for guidance in living in the material world, the gospel songs of Flatt & Scruggs comprise a spiritual Baedeker that ranks with the greatest gospel music recorded in the 20th century. This one will get you through troublesome waters.