The four-disc, 100-track Mountain Gospel box set collects sacred music released on commercial 78s by Southern white performers in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s, and includes string bands, gospel quartets, and sacred harp singers all trying to sing their way to heaven while maybe making a dollar or two on the way. By turns exuberant, wise, humorous, forgiving, unforgiving, ragged as a soup bone and occasionally dressed up fine as silk, these selections are reminders of how much the sacred and the secular were intermingled in the early days of the recording industry. Highlights include the bass string runs of Alfred Karnes on his double-necked Gibson guitar on the comforting and majestic "We Shall All Be Reunited," the odd waltzes of the Garland Brothers, who tackle "Beautiful" and "Just Over the River" with a lineup of fiddle, guitar, and violincello, the flowing "Going Down the Valley" by Ernest Stoneman (whose long career saw him record on acoustic cylinders, 78s, stereo LPs, and even videotape), and a chugging string band version of "Ain't Gonna Lay My Armor Down" by Ancil McVay and Roland N. Johnson. Ernest Phipps delivers energetic takes on "Do Lord Remember Me" and "Old Ship of Zion," while the Phil Crow Trio crack off a goofy and cartoonish "I'm a Gittin' Ready to Go." Other high points include J.E. Mainer's folksy "This World Is Not My Home" and his energetic "Just Over in the Gloryland" (featuring the three-finger banjo style of Snuffy Jenkins, who helped set the table for bluegrass), as well as younger brother Wade Mainer's gentle waltz version of "The Precious Jewel." The all-female string band the Coon Creek Girls blast through an impressive "Sowing on the Mountain" before the whole set comes to a close with the whimsical and joyous "What Kind of Shoes You Gwine to Wear" by William Rexroat's Cedar Crest Singers. There is a fair bit of fire and brimstone scattered throughout these songs, and a good deal of pining for homes on far, distant shores, but there is also the kind of ragged joy that comes with knowing that singing about a better life may actually -- however briefly -- deliver that better life.