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I'll Fly Away: Country Hymns & Songs of Faith

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2007 1 Jul
I'll Fly Away: Country Hymns & Songs of Faith
Sounds like … traditional country arrangements of favorites from Southern hymnbooks, newly recorded by Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, Sara Watkins, Dolly Parton, producer Ed Cash, and others.At a glance … though there have been plenty of albums like this one before, I'll Fly Away is very good at what it does, thanks to the impressive talents of the musicians involved.Track Listing I'll Fly Away—Kortnie Heying
It Is Well with My Soul—Vince Gill with Sara Watkins
River of Happiness—Dolly Parton
Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing—Ronnie Freeman
Get Right Church—Marty Stuart
He Leadeth Me—Sara Watkins
Crown Him with Many Crowns—Kortnie Heying
Uncloudy Day—Ed Cash
'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus—instrumental
Nothing but the Blood of Jesus—Ronnie Freeman
Holy! Holy! Holy!—Kortnie Heying

Country, gospel, and hymns are so intertwined in Southern history, it's a wonder Christian country is considered newsworthy or trendy. Fifty years ago, it was Johnny Cash, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Elvis Presley; today it's Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, and Alabama. And the major labels have taken notice. First it was Provident/Sony with Believe, followed by Word/Warner's Three Wooden Crosses. Now it's Sparrow/EMI's turn, releasing I'll Fly Away: Country Hymns & Songs of Faith.

Unlike other compilations with previously released material, this one features new recordings of traditional favorites from Southern hymnbooks, all produced by Ed Cash (Chris Tomlin, Bethany Dillon). Though the album doesn't figure the biggest names in country, some impressive talent has been tapped nonetheless, all performing as you would expect while Cash (no relation to Johnny) maintains consistency.

Vince Gill brings his folksy acoustic style to "It Is Well with My Soul," complete with fiddle, mandolin, dobro, and a duet vocal by Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek), who in turn offers a beautifully stripped and lilting rendition of "He Leadeth Me." Both Marty Stuart ("Get Right Church") and Cash himself ("Uncloudy Day") perform excellent versions of classics by The Staples Singers, while Dolly Parton reprises her own bluegrass classic "River of Happiness."

I'll Fly Away would have benefited from some additional established artists since half the tracks are by two relative unknowns. Ronnie Freeman actually started his career with Rocketown back in 2002, and seems a little too pop for this album, though "Nothing but the Blood of Jesus" resembles Gill's style. Kortnie Heying is more effective as a reasonable substitute for Alison Krauss, sounding particularly impressive on the old-fashioned country arrangement of the title track.

The album comes across as a little routine now, since so many albums in recent years have also offered new versions of these very same hymns. However, there's no denying Cash has assembled a superb team of musicians—particularly the skilled instrumentalists. It is what it is, and very good at it.

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