Paul Williams & the Victory Trio
What A Journey
4.5 stars (out of 5)
Joyful! That is the word that comes to mind from the first notes of Paul Williams’ latest outing with the ever-changing lineup of the Victory Trio. These are some of the brightest and liveliest sounds in bluegrass, all punctuated by Williams’ timeless tenor vocals.
That Williams insists on recording only spiritual music limits his marketability even within the gospel-friendly environ that is bluegrass, but no one – and I’ll say this to Doyle Lawson should he ask – does bluegrass gospel better than the Paul Williams quartet.
In Dan Moneyhun, Williams has a strong co-lead vocalist and musical foil. He opens the album with “Back to the Old Home,” and this number is the one that has the widest appeal; while definitely one of the songs that Williams would refer to as having “a good message,” its foundation is cloaked in an ‘old home’ setting that makes it appear to be just another terrific bluegrass song.
Williams takes the lead on more overt gospel numbers including “Sinner Don’t Wait” – on which he stretches his high tenor to maximum impac t- and “There’s A Miracle Everywhere You Go”- a new Dixie and Tom T. Hall song. Also included are two Williams originals, “Don’t Worry About Me” and “Hid Away With God.”
With Jerry Keys returning on 5-string, as well as fiddler Keith Williams and bassist Susie Keys, Williams has gone to the past to revamp his Victory Trio; this trio of instrumentalists last backed Williams on Living on the Hallelujah Side in 2003. All demonstrate that they are more than capable of participating in a recording project such as What A Journey, and while their contributions may not be studio flashy they are significant and solid.
The banjo on this album is rather subdued, as benefits the subject matter, but adds airy freshness to the songs while propelling them along. The venerable “Come and Dine” allows Keith Williams to stretch a little on his fiddle, and he takes full advantage with restrained but engaging flourishes. Moneyhun takes few breaks, but adds a nice touch to “My Mother’s Bible.”
Williams makes his F-5 mandolin sing throughout the recording, perhaps never more notably as on “Back to the Old Home” while chopping the rhythm on tunes such as “I’ll Be Young Again.”
However, it is the vocals of Paul Williams & the Victory Trio that draws in the listeners, and on his eighth album this decade Williams again demonstrates that he is without equal when it comes to producing and arranging bluegrass gospel sounds. Any song chosen at random will reveal expressive lead vocals and soaring and soothing three part harmonies choruses. The baritone voice in the trios belongs to Adam Winstead who also contributes rhythm guitar.
Williams’ voice seemingly defies the passage of time and is every bit as enjoyable to hear today as on recordings made with Jimmy Martin fifty years ago; it is a wonderful thing! The title track may be this album’s finest presentation of his voice, but this is by no means the only place Williams shines. “Sinner Don’t Wait” and his own “Hid Away With God” are similarly spectacular.
“Beyond the Vast Horizon” contains a southern gospel vocal influence that balances nicely the more traditionally arranged bluegrass numbers.
Few bluegrass gospel albums capture my attention the way those of Paul Williams & the Victory Trio do consistently. With the inspirational and engaging What A Journey, Williams and his compatriots may have set a new standard for contemporary bluegrass gospel recordings.
by Donald Teplyske