This Is My Crowd
Rural Rhythm Records
4 stars (out of 5)
By Larry Stephens
The Marksmen Quartet has been around professional music for four decades. Some of that time was spent more closely aligned with the southern gospel scene and most of their songs on this CD would fit well in southern gospel. In bluegrass a close contemporary is Paul Williams and the Victory Trio.
Dr. Earle Wheeler formed the Marksmen after some senior members from his first group, the Gospel Hearts, retired. For twenty-one years the group, with several different members but always anchored by Wheeler, worked the gospel circuit before making a segue to bluegrass gospel in the early 1980s. They are currently a five-member group with Wheeler doing vocals, Davey Waller (vocals, mandolin and guitar), Darrin Chambers (vocals, bass, guitar and dobro), Mark Wheeler (Earle’s son; vocals, lead guitar and banjo) and Mark Autry (vocals, bass, guitar). They are joined on the CD by other musicians including Bryan McDowell
There is a mixture of songs on the CD. One of the most suprising may be “Reuben.” It shows off the picking skills of the band and guests but seems odd to be included on an all-gospel album. The same can be said of “The Mule Song” which has a little in common with gospel music. (Trying to track down the origin of this song, I’m reminded—and showing my age—of Death Valley Days and the 20-mule team the sponsor showed hauling borax out of the desert. There seems to be forty or more versions of something called “The Mule Song,”) “Rock of Ages,” on the other hand, is as traditional as they come, presented in a minimalist arrangement, just a singer and guitar plus some background harmony. This is as good and effective an arrangement of this old song that I’ve heard.
“Matthew 24” is a Cliff Waldron song. The vocals here don’t blend as well as on “Rock of Ages” but there’s still that good, traditional gospel sound. They reach for the heartstrings with “Don’t Take Your Life (Take Mine),” about a man ready to commit suicide until he hears Jesus say, “don’t take your life, take mine.” While some people may dismiss a song like this as maudlin, others will tell how it represents their own life’s story. That makes a good song, one that touches life’s stories.
“The Vail Is Gone” will meet any standard for a gospel number while “The Upper Room” is a down-to-earth story of a man recovering from a bout of drinking, listening to a preacher talk about the upper room where Jesus visited while he and others sit in the Upper Room Mission Home. Another song about life with which too many can identify. Another of those is “Last Saturday Night,” the story of a man on the wrong path who was saved in the jail last Saturday night, too late for this life but not life eternal:
He lived in the darkness now he walks in the light
Saved in his cell last Saturday night,
Saved in the jail last Saturday night
Open the gates, let him come in
Heaven is waiting, the chair’s not the end
Live in the darkness, now he enters the light
Steps into heaven, what a beautiful sight
He’ll be in heaven next Saturday night
I have a friend who is part of a prison ministry. Songs like this touch a nerve.
If you like bluegrass gospel done the traditional way, you’ll enjoy this CD.