REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/13/2012
Blue Highway has done some incredible contemporary bluegrass music in their time, and they have garnered numerous awards, as well as fans, with a powerhouse line up that has not changed since they were started in 1994. That’s quite a feat for a bluegrass band. 2004’s Wondrous Love picked up an International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Gospel Recording Of The Year award, a Dove award, and a Grammy nomination for Best Southern, Country Or Bluegrass Gospel Album, and it deserved all the praise it received.
Wondrous Love is an album that weaves together old classics like “This World Is Not My Home,” and Bill Monroe’s “Wicked Path of Sin,” along with contemporary songs written by members of the group. The album takes its title from a 200 year old song that is its first track. Blue Highway chose to open this song with a solo mandolin intro, and then proceed to sing a capella; first as a solo, then a duet, then on as a multi-tracked round that could have had Freddie Mercury at the production helm. Most of the originals are gems as well, with mandolin and fiddle player Shawn Lane contributing three strong originals, with two in particular – “I’m Asking You” and “Ahead Of The Storm” – rising to the top. Bassist Wayne Taylor and Guitarist Tim Stafford also give excellent contributions in the writing field.
Another a capella tune on the disc is “Chasing After the Wind,” an original by Tim Stafford that is very different both in its melody and subject matter. It took me several passes at this song to realize that it is a synthesis in music of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. Read the book and the song becomes crystal clear. One of the best songs of the album is Wayne Taylor’s “Seven Sundays In A Row” which relates the touching story of a girl who is dating a man who everyone thought was a hell raiser, but in dating her, he appears to be drawing closer to redemption as he has been to church seven Sundays in a row.
A review of Blue Highway would not be complete without a mention the work of virtuoso dobro player, Rob Ickes. Although he does not contribute vocally to the group, boy, can he make a dobro sing! As if the sonic evidence on this album were not enough, the proof is in the fact that the IBMA has named him Dobro Player Of The Year 13 times (as of this writing), and he has collected more awards from that industry association than any other instrumentalist. As a bonus treat, Wondrous Love wraps up with an instrumental rendition of the traditional “Old Rugged Cross” done on the dobro, first solo in a slow rubato pace, and then slightly faster with the band on the final chorus.
With Wondrous Love, Blue Highway followed in the path of many bluegrass artists in putting out an all gospel album. While they have always tucked in one or two gospel songs into their secular albums, getting a full disc of gospel from this talented group is a blessing.