With so many articles I’ve written about Slayer, Danzig, or any other ominous artist of the darkest intentions, you probably wouldn’t believe I’m a church-going Christian. You don’t have to stop reading just yet, hear me out! I grew up in a Christian household, attending church every Sunday, and even playing bass guitar in my congregation since I was 16 years old. I’ve read the bible from front to back countless times, I pray every day, and I try my hardest to be a light to others who may or may not be into a proverbial higher power. But that doesn’t mean I’m a Conservative, hypocritical, or a televangelist supporting sociopath like how most Christians are represented in media. It means I’m a human being like everybody else. One with his own set of issues, inconsistencies, and times when I fall short. Recognizing this also makes it easier for me to say that most religious-themed music is trash.
Okay so if you’re a person of faith, you don’t have to stop reading just yet, let me finish! Now that I’ve got the attention of sides of the spectrum, let me explain.
When it comes to Christian music, it’s essentially a genre with a singular purpose: to worship. That’s fine, but when every single song and/or album leads to the same end-game, things can get a little boring. That’s not a dig at any gospel artist or anyone who enjoys that kind of music, it’s just fact. If I’m in the mood to raise my fists in anger, want to flirt with the ladies, or set fire to the establishment, “Jesus loves me for the bible tells me so” probably isn’t gonna quite cut it. I think a lot of artists (even in the gospel genre) can tell you if the artist isn’t feeling it, how can the listener? This is the main issue with most faith-based music. Artists are so wrapped up in delivering the best product they can, the finished product can sound and feel like going through the motions. If the music is meant to make you feel something but it only leaves you cold, why bother?
Of course, when I received The Gospel, the new album from Kentucky duo The Local Honeys, I had preconceptions.
I’ve covered pseudo-Christian records in the past. Most notably releases by Brian Owens, but I’m always a bit apprehensive when it comes to outright religious albums. Not only does it feel like I’m preaching to the choir (pun only slightly intended) but I think a lot of people are automatically turned off and tuned out when they hear the topic. That’s relatable because admittedly, I’d probably do the same thing. However, my relationship with Soul Step Records has taught me over and over again they wouldn’t press an album on vinyl unless they believed in it themselves. That alone kept me interested enough in dropping the needle on an album aptly titled The Gospel.
I think this is also probably a good time to reveal this is not only a gospel record but a bluegrass record as well. Yet another notch in the Things I’m Really Not Into belt. That’s two strikes, so now what? I actually listened. That’s what.
First things first, it is a bluegrass gospel record. They make no reservations about it. From the retro 1960s style artwork on the cover to the first note of a banjo, violin, or acoustic guitar. It is what it says it is. End all be all. Does that sound familiar? If you understand that reference you’ll probably be tuned right into the subject matter. If you don’t understand the reference, just take a quick listen to the lyrics and that’ll bring you up to speed.
Speaking of lyrics, the first thing that comes to mind is the (for the lack of a better word) angelic voices of Montana Hobbs and Linda Jean Stokely. Not only do they sound fantastic together and separate but each singer complements the other and every other instrument on each song. I’m trying really hard to fight the urge to quote a certain passage out of the book of Proverbs, but the long and short of it is: everything has a purpose. Within this record, Hobbs and Stokely utilize it as a means to an end.
What sets The Gospel apart from any other faith-based record I’ve heard in recent years, is monumental: they mean it.
That’s not to say other gospel artists don’t, its just that with The Gospel, I get the feeling The Local Honeys aren’t exactly trying to win souls for the Kingdom as much as they are celebrating the kind of art they grew up with. There’s a certain indescribable vibe in their performance that lets the listener know “Hey, this is important to me and it might not be your thing, but I want to share my love of something with you. If it touches your heart, that’s cool! If it doesn’t, well that’s cool too!” It’s that mindset that really makes me respect Hobbs and Stokley as artists and as people. They’re not preaching to the listener but sharing something dear to their hearts. This is something I’ve seen most churches (and Christians) struggle with. To hear it in this way is refreshing and maybe even a little liberating!
Above everything else, The Gospel is made with love. Every verse, chorus, bridge, and hook was crafted with the utmost care and consideration. The songs presented here are from an era when congregations weren’t mega-churches pandering to political parties, encouraging hatred for those who believed differently, or ways to justify judgment. An era when churches were community centers where the weary could rest, the lonely could fellowship, and the sick could be treated. Most importantly, genuine love could be shown. You know, things that have been all but lost in the last one hundred years or so? It’s literally what Jesus asked us to do.
Regardless of your position on the church, God, and faith, I think we can all agree the world needs a bit more love right?
Even though faith-based music and bluegrass aren’t exactly my favorite genres of music, The Gospel is a beautiful album of community, warmth, and love. If The Local Honeys are all about preserving those things, I’ll stand with them from the pews of any church all the way up to the pearly gates. Just like my thoughts on Soul Step Records for releasing this album through their Foot Print Series, I commend them for their efforts of preservation and passion. Amen indeed.
The Gospel is available on limited edition vinyl at Soul Step Records.