James King remains one of the leading voices in traditional bluegrass, summoning timeless echoes of Appalachia with a voice that is equal parts urgent, yearning, and tender. Yet it is not King’s ability to evoke his musical heroes (Carter Stanley being foremost among them) that has made him the most celebrated mountain soul singer of his generation. Rather, King possesses a genius for applying the rugged strains of the music he loves to a wide array of songs, traditional and contemporary, reinforcing the relevance and power of classic bluegrass.
Gardens in the Sky, to be released on May 20 by Rounder Records, is King’s first and only collection to date of all-gospel material. Producer Ken Irwin worked with King to add material recorded in early 2007 to supplement the already sumptuous set of songs drawn from King’s earlier albums with his own bands, the Rounder Paul Williams album that featured King, tracks from the out-of-print various-artists album The Stanley Tradition-Songs About Our Savior and with Longview. The album boasts six new songs, among them including the much-requested contemporary standout “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore,” by Chris Stapleton of The SteelDrivers.
While it’s difficult to believe anyone could take a Stanley classic like “Sweeter than the Flowers” and breathe freshness and originality into it, James King certainly does so. Just as King and this set of material are perfectly matched, so too, are the utterly complementary bands and additional musicians. Adam Haynes’ fiddle on “Jerusalem Tomorrow” could scarcely be more hauntingly perfect but instrumentalists and harmony singers alike, from Dan Tyminski to Rhonda Vincent, from Dudley Connell to longtime James King Band member Kevin Prater, to name but a few, all contribute essential and special musical elements to this remarkable set. This is the cream of the traditional bluegrass crop today.
The James King Band will tour in support of Gardens in the Sky with new dates to be announced soon.
1. Will He Wait A Little Longer
2. The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn
3. I Just Steal Away and Pray
4. Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore*
5. Garden in the Sky
6. Jerusalem Tomorrow
7. It’s Hot Down Here*
8. Sweeter than the Flowers
9. Don’t Worry Mama*
10. The Touch of God’s Hand
11. These Old Pictures
12. Just as the Sun Went Down
13. Message for Peace
14. Angels Are Singing (In Heaven Tonight)
15. The Prettiest Flowers Will Be Blooming*
16. Voice of My Savior
17. Will You Feel at Home*
18. Happy I’ll Be*