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How Great Thou Art: Gospel Favorites Live from the Grand Ole Opry
Sounds like … superstars like Alan Jackson, Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Trace Adkins, Loretta Lynn, and Vince Gill singing gospel standards and country arrangements of beloved hymnsAt a glance … aside from a few strong moments and the marquee value of the superstars involved, How Great Thou Art doesn't bring anything new to the increasingly popular genre of inspirational countryTrack Listing I'll Fly Away—Charlie Daniels Band with Mac Powell Blessed Assurance—Alan Jackson Precious Memories—Patty Loveless Precious Lord, Take My Hand—Ronnie Milsap Family Bible—Ricky Skaggs and The Whites Just a Closer Walk with Thee—Sara Evans The Old Rugged Cross—Brad Paisley Wayfaring Stranger—Trace Adkins Where No One Stands Alone—Loretta Lynn Give Me Jesus—Vince Gill A House of Gold—Dierks Bentley How Great Thou Art—Carrie Underwood
How Great Thou Art: Gospel Favorites Live from the Grand Ole Opry would have seemed more impressive a few years ago when hymns were overshadowed by modern worship anthems, and country music superstars like Alan Jackson, Carrie Underwood, and Brad Paisley singing their faith onstage would have been surprising. But hymns albums are anything but rare today, and the rise of inspirational country has yielded plenty of compilations offering countrified hymns and Southern gospel classics. Seriously, how many new versions of "I'll Fly Away" and "How Great Thou Art" do we need?
Also, don't be fooled. This disc doesn't represent a single concert, but instead select performances from country stars singing gospel favorites at the Grand Ole Opry. Which does at least make this album more iPod friendly, fading in and out with every track. But it's neither an event nor a collection of momentous recordings—production values are merely adequate for a live collection. Too often, the tracks are short and simple, with nothing to characterize them but the legendary voices. Jackson delivers his two-minute "Blessed Assurance" exactly like the version from his Precious Memories album, and I'm sorry to say the great Loretta Lynn has sounded much better than she does here.
How Great Thou Art has its moments, however. Though "I'll Fly Away" may be the most overplayed standard today, Charlie Daniels Band (with Third Day's Mac Powell) revitalizes it as a rousing two-step. There are impressive instrumental solos to be found in Trace Adkins' "Wayfaring Stranger" and Dierks Bentley's "A House of Gold." Ronnie Milsap and Sara Evans are charmingly old-fashioned in delivery, and Vince Gill's sweet tenor seems made for "Give Me Jesus." As a finale, Underwood gives a show-stopping vocal performance of "How Great Thou Art."
In explaining her hymn choice, Underwood says she chose the hymn because it's "a standard gospel song that has really touched people." Such a dull statement sums up my feelings exactly. The album is fine for what it is, but a missed opportunity for personal testimonies and self-expression, relying on the exact same songs used on most other inspirational country releases. What we really need are more originals like "Jesus Take the Wheel" and "Believe" to prove that inspirational country is more about sincere expressions of faith than star power and marketing.