Press-Republican

February 1, 2013

Losing religion, finding spirituality

Vt. arranger masters band's bluegrass, gospel balance

By ROBIN CAUDELL
Press-Republican

---- — PERU — Taylor Armerding’s evangelical background, the son of a preacher man turned college administrator, gives him a certain insight into the gospel leanings of the Bluegrass Gospel Project.

The band’s newest luminous release, “Shine,” has more than a sprinkling of spiritual music among its 12 tracks. Selections can be heard during the band’s Feb. 8 engagement at the Peru Coffee House.

“I know what evangelical Christianity is about and what conservative religion is; this is not that,” said Armerding, who plays the mandolin and lives on Boston’s North Shore. Prior to the Bluegrass Gospel Project, he was the founder and lead singer for Northern Lights, a progressive-bluegrass band.

“It’s what people these days call spiritual,” Armerding said. “It’s ecumenical and nondenominational.”

Gene White Jr. (fiddle, guitar, vocals and arranger) had a vision for the band — which includes Dr. Steve Light (banjo, dobro, guitar, vocals), Colby Crehan (vocals), Paul Miller (guitar, vocals) and Kirk Lord (upright bass) — to perform bluegrass and gospel.

“Gospel is a pretty important element of bluegrass. It’s 25 percent of it,” Armerding said. “You get into bluegrass music, every band that’s been around longer than five or six years puts out a gospel album. It’s an important part of the tradition.”

Gospel comprises between 25 and 30 percent of what the band does.

“It’s Gene’s idea that we will have this emphasis,” Armerding said. “That’s a blessing and a curse. It tends to typecast you. “

The disc’s first track, Crehan’s “Tell Me A Story,” has gospel overtones.

“Far Side Banks of Jordan,” written by Terry Smith, is a tender, moving song, which taps biblical imagery of the River Jordan. A loved one promises that when she crosses over, she will be waiting on the other side for a joyous reunion.

“It’s about death, about dying, what you cross between life on earth and life in heaven,” Ameriding said. “There’s a very moving version by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash late in their life. June died not long after that.”

White and Crehan did a tight arrangement of the traditional “Oh, Mary Don’t You Weep.”

“We gather around one microphone,” Amerding said. “It makes it more intimate. It’s a huge crowd-pleaser. It’s all about Old Testament images, Moses and Pharaoh.”

Crehan penned track five, “Shake Out the Chaff.”

“Chaff is a used in parables in the Old and New Testament,” Armerding said. “Wheat is separated from the chaff. Chaff is what you throw out. Wheat is what you save.”

“My Lord’s Going to Set Me Free” (track six) and “Paul and Silas” (track eight) are call-and-response songs.

“The two (Paul and Silas) did missionary work together and got thrown in jail,” he said.

“Heaven” (track nine), despite its title, is not about divinity but locating heaven on earth.

The band covers the Louvin Brothers’ “Travel, Travel On” and concludes the disc with Bruce Cockburn’s “One Day I Walk.”

“It’s a very spiritual song. Cockburn is a Christian who doesn’t like being overt about it. He cloaks his lyrics in spiritual ways. They’re not in-your-face kind of things,” Armerding said.

The Bluegrass Gospel Project does not produce concept albums but arrange the songs they’ve learned over a year. The selection process is a careful one.

“Gene has a very specific idea of what works for this band,” Armerding said. “I think 99.9 percent of the time, he’s right on. He’s not a lead singer or claim he doesn’t sing that much harmony, but he has an amazing sense of arrangement and what works.”

Email Robin Caudell:

rcaudell@pressrepublican.com

 

 

IF YOU GO WHAT: The Bluegrass Gospel Project. WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8. WHERE: The Peru Coffeehouse is located at the corner of routes 22 and 22B in Peru. ADMISSION: $10 at the door.