Don Rigsby & Midnight Call
The Voice of God
4.5 stars (out of 5)
Fans of the Lonesome River Band, Longview and his solo work already know that Don Rigsby is one of the most soulful singers in the bluegrass universe no matter the material. He’s able to live up to that billing here on a 14-track, 49-minute all gospel effort that hits all the expected bluegrass notes while extending past the genre in some gutsy ways.
“One Prayer Away” signals a rich vocal and instrumental approach to the more familiar-sounding material, with Dale Vanderpool’s banjo setting the tone. “The Gospel According to Luke” is a ballad of a street preacher that recalls Graham Greene’s whiskey priest from The Power and the Glory, while “Then Y’Ain’t,” by Tom T. And Dixie Hall, and “The Voice of God,” co-written by Larry Cordle, have Rigsby singing the words of great writers on songs that show this album is about ideas, not just religious catch phrases.
“He Put a Breeze in Me” and “Leaning on the Son” also have traditional bluegrass backing, while “Charged With Being Christian” is another clever concept song, this time to the strains of a finger-picked guitar in the manner of many Flatt & Scruggs gospel hits. “This World is Not My Home” is the best of the bluegrass tracks, a perfect brother-style duet vocal with guitarist Clyde Marshall.
“I Am an Orphan Child” is the only misstep among the bluegrass numbers, but only because Rigsby decided to add to and change the lyrics of a perfectly good Gillian Welch song. “Send Me Wings So I Can Fly” is also a failure, being the excessively maudlin type of song that some bluegrass fans love to latch onto even though, in this case, the song lacks a bluegrass arrangement.
The four other envelope-pushing tracks are what lift this album above a normal bluegrass gospel effort. “He Done What He Said” ups the ante with an a cappella quartet arrangement that recalls the Golden Gate Quartet and over which Rigby’s tenor soars with exceptional power.
“Mary Magdalene,” a duet with Beth Castle, could serve as a companion piece to Dolly Parton’s “He’s Alive, while “Forgiveness,” a duet with slide guitar blueswoman Rory Block, pairs two soulful voices in an intense gospel-blues setting.
But the solo, Old Regular Baptist-style “The Lord Will Provide” proves that Rigsby needs nothing but that voice to be spellbinding.
Addendum: I got an e-mail from Don Rigsby on July 26, 2010 clarifying the genesis of the song “I Am an Orphan Child.” Though it is credited in the liner notes as co-written by Gillian Welch, Don wrote the entire song on his own before discovering that it was very similar to Welch’s “Orphan Girl,” which he had not previously heard. Legal advice prompted Don to add Welch to the song credit to avoid any possible legal issues. This certainly changes my view of the song, which is fine as it is. And none of this changes my opinion of Don Rigsby, who is, in my personal experience and by reputation, one of the most talented artists in bluegrass, and one who is known for integrity and class.
by Aaron Keith Harris