During the glory days of bluegrass music it was not uncommon for bands to play a Saturday night bar gig till the wee hours and then do a church show early Sunday morning. Of course the Sunday show would consist of nothing but gospel material. Blue Highway has assembled an entire CD devoted to this rich legacy of religious bluegrass music.
Opening with an entirely a cappella version of "Wondrous Love," complete with four part harmonies, and round singing for the last verse, Blue Highway's take on bluegrass gospel stresses spot-on harmonies combined with virtuosic instrumental work. Sonya Issacs and Alan O'Bryant's vocal harmonies augment Tim Stafford's guitar, Shawn Lane's mandolin, Jason Burleson's banjo, Rob Ickes' dobro, and Wayne Taylor's bass. All the tunes on Wondrous Love except for the last, an instrumental version of "Old Rugged Cross" featuring Rob Ickes, highlight the band's vocal abilities. Their precise harmonies reach the exacting level pioneered by groups such as the Lonesome River Band and the Nashville Bluegrass Band. Bluesy inflections and a more urbane attitude differentiates Blue Highway's sound from these other fine groups.
Recorded at Dark Horse Studios in Franklin, Tennessee, by Brent King and Tim Roberts, Wondrous Love sounds superb. Even on CD players not equipped with built-in HDCD decoders, this HDCD disc has a beautifully defined, open, yet natural sonic signature. The recording maintains a delicate balance between each vocal and instrumental part, even during sections where everyone is playing full-tilt. I've long maintained that some of the best-engineered acoustic recordings can be found on bluegrass CD's. Wondrous Love clearly illustrates my point.
Even for those of us from alternative religious backgrounds, Wondrous Love offers a rich and, dare I say it, heavenly musical experience.