Paul Williams & The Victory Trio
Just A Little Closer Home
5 stars (out of 5)
By Larry Stephens
Bluegrass, just as any genre of music, has fans and practitioners who are Christians, atheists, agnostics and Buddhists—and who knows what else. This can make discussions and stage shows a little uncomfortable if “too much” religion gets in the mix.
But bluegrass arose from places and people with close ties to Christian denominations. Gospel music figures in the core of bluegrass, from shaped note singing to mountain congregations singing ragged but from the heart. Most bluegrass CDs include at least one gospel number and most bluegrass acts include at least one gospel song in each set they play. At least two prominent stars of bluegrass often take it a step further: Larry Sparks often brings his minister with him to the evening stage and gives him a few minutes at the microphone – and it doesn’t take him long to warm to the task. Sparks is never bashful about talking about his transformation. Ricky Skaggs is known to do some on-stage preaching from time to time, too.
Doing or including a gospel song is different than devoting your life to gospel music and that’s what Paul Williams has done. After years on the road with bluegrass groups like the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers and Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys, Williams left the road for thirty-two years while still performing in churches and on the radio. Since coming back to the bluegrass circuit in 1995 his music is exclusively gospel music. (He will occasionally take part in a reunion show and perform secular songs from his early years.)
Paul Williams is all smiles on the stage and is never bashful about speaking of his love of God, though he doesn’t preach in his show. If you see him walking through the show grounds he’s willing to stop and talk and, like the majority of bluegrass stars, he’s friendly and approachable. If you look closely, though, you can see the years of travel and performing etched on his face. The professional music road leaves its mark.
With their latest CD they have reached out to a variety of sources. Tom T. and Dixie Hall contribute “Someone Made The Sandals Jesus Wore.” Tom T. needs no introduction but some familiar with his country music career may not realize the depth of dedication to bluegrass he has shown the past several years. Reaching way back, they include “Living the Right Life Now.” Written by Wade Mainer and first recorded by his brother J. E. Mainer in 1938 (Bluebird 7412) its message is as important today as it was seven decades ago. They also go to the realm of Southern Gospel with “I’m Longing For Home” by Squire Parsons (probably nest known for “Sweet Beulah Land”) and then look internally for Dan Moneyhun’s “I’ve Been Set Free” and Susie Keys’ “There’s Still Time.”
Moneyhun (guitar, lead and low tenor) and Keys (upright bass) prove to be capable musicians and songwriters. Four of the most telling lines ever written were penned by Keys:
There’s two dates on a gravestone
When we’re born and when we die
There’s a line in between them
Tells the story of our life
With Paul singing lead, tenor and playing mandolin the band is rounded out by Jerry Keys on banjo and bass vocals, Adam Winstead on guitar and baritone and Kevin Jackson on fiddle. Nothing shows off harmony singing better than a cappella gospel and “He Answered My Plea” and “I’m Longing For Home” demonstrate they can sing with the best of them.”
Paul Williams performs to entertain, but that’s second to carrying the message of salvation and this CD does both with excellence. Bluegrass music was blessed when Paul came back.