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Souls' Chapel

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 1 Aug
Souls' Chapel
Sounds like … the country, blues, gospel, and rock intersection of Johnny Cash, the Staples Singers, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, and the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrackAt a glance … an impressive recreation of "Mississippi Gospel" with old and new songs that somehow sound timeless and personable without seeming clichéd or repetitiveTrack Listing Somebody Saved Me Lord, Give Me Just a Little More Time Way Down Come Into the House of the Lord The Gospel Story of Noah's Ark I Can't Even Walk (Without You Holding My Hand) It's Time to Go Home The Unseen Hand There's a Rainbow (At the End of Every Storm) Slow Train Move Along Train Souls' Chapel

Considering the country superstar's reputation for partying and drinking over his 25-plus-year career, it's amazing that Marty Stuart is still making music—or kept his faith intact, for that matter. Yet once Mavis Staples bestowed upon him the famed guitar from her legendary father Pops Staples after a concert, Stuart knew he had to finish recording the gospel album he's always wanted to make.

At long last, Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives—unquestionably one of the coolest band names ever—have completed Souls' Chapel, the best Johnny Cash album that The Man in Black never made. Stuart describes it as Mississippi Gospel, the church music he heard on the radio growing up in the South during the '60s—an enjoyable fusion of classic American roots music: spirituals, blues, country, rock, and gospel. It's that place where the music of Cash, the Staples Singers, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, and the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack intersect. Though occasionally sparse and simple, Souls' Chapel is not an acoustic effort, grounded by a basic rock combo with B-3 organ, impressive vocal harmonies, and Stuart's warm electric guitar sound.

The album features two Staples Singers classics at the bookends—bluesy, nearly a cappella "Somebody Saved Me" and "Move Along Train," a duet with Mavis. Gorgeous renditions of "I Can't Even Walk" and "The Unseen Hand" are just as magical. But surprisingly, most of the album relies on Stuart originals, including bouncy "Way Down," soulful "There's a Rainbow," '50s-style rocker "It's Time to Go Home," and an epic retelling of Noah and the flood. It's a classic niche sound that requires an appreciation of Southern rock and gospel. Every song is an overt and straightforward expression of faith that somehow remains personable instead of clichéd or repetitive. Even if you haven't heard Stuart's past work, Souls' Chapel stands out as one of Stuart's best, because it's that excellent.

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