Reviewed by Jennifer Bogart
Gardens in the Sky by James King
"...a classic disc that listeners will reach for time and again."
A beautiful thing happens in the intersection of banjo, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bass, a strong lead man and Jesus. The sweet, strains of bluegrass harmony are uniquely suited to reflecting the constant tug in the heart of God’s children towards the promised Kingdom to come. James King, a leading voice in traditional bluegrass music has offered up his first all gospel compilation.
Gardens in the Sky combines King’s gospel tracks from his own previous recording contributions to other albums – most notably The Stanley Gospel Tradition – Songs About Our Saviour – and previously unreleased material to make up this winning compendium. King’s songs weave together the familiar elements of bluegrass gospel tunes: faithful mothers, daddies, family bibles, deceased relatives, the local church, worshipping the Lord and a desperate longing for heaven.
Opening with the up-tempo “Will He Wait a Little Longer,” King had me up and on my feet within the first few bars - easily the most likely contender for play at a community barn dance. The remainder of the album is much more reflective, with occasional bright spots that pick up the pace, such as the classic acapella warning to sinners “It’s Hot Down Here.” The album's mood ranges from melancholy to sweet assurance, and throughout listeners can easily detect the ongoing thread of the heart’s ongoing desire to meet with the saviour, to be reunited with loved ones who have gone on before.
The traditional song “Garden in the Sky” – the album’s namesake – is a sweet song of acceptance into the arms of Jesus, reassuring loved ones who remain, while still plucking the heartstrings of any parent. Other inclusions such as “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” are classics in the making with a hidden meaning that is only revealed at song's end.
A most curious addition to the album is “Jerusalem Tomorrow.” While the song hearkens back to the early Christian church, King’s rendition calls up images of the southern Bible belt. There the lyrics could as easily be applied to religious charlatans without Jesus in their life, as the false healer in Israel.
Of course no bluegrass disc would be complete without the smooth harmonies found throughout, most notably on “I Just Steal Away and Pray,” “Don’t Worry Mama,” which features the single female voice – Rhonda Vincent – on the CD, and “Voice of My Saviour.” But truly there are too many excellent examples to mention them all.
King’s vocal stylings are humble and unpretentious; relying upon his steady, grounded voice that consistently delivers both songs of praise, warnings of judgment and simple odes that reflect the Christian life. Warm, rich and full of life King’s voice is earthy, deep and true. He contributes a genuine salt-of-the-earth and son-of-the-hills flavor to the recording. With solid performances all around Gardens in the Sky is a classic disc that listeners will reach for time and again.
Jennifer Bogart is a child of God, wife and homeschooling mother of three young children (so far). She writes homeschooling resources with her husband at Bogart Family Resources, and reviews as a creative outlet. Passionately dedicated to promoting the work of Christian authors and artists, her blog Quiverfull Family features reviews, contests, family updates, homeschooling tidbits and well - a bit of everything.