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How Sweet the Sound: 25 Favorite Hymns and Gospel Greats

  • reviewed by Andy Argyrakis Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
How Sweet the Sound: 25 Favorite Hymns and Gospel Greats
Sounds like … traditional hymns and praise songs revamped in the country-rock tradition of the Charlie Daniels Band. At a Glance … this two-disc collection features Daniels and company bouncing around from southern-fried rock and southern gospel to country and bluegrass interpretations of church standards.

Forever known as the mastermind behind "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," Charlie Daniels has just released his third project of spiritual content with Sparrow Records. Most will recall his legendary hit for its unforgettable lyrics, rollicking beats, and notable fiddle solo, but Daniels's legacy stretches much further than just that one hit. Upon graduating high school in 1955, this fiddle-playing sensation hit the road with his bandmates and eventually worked up to a multi-million-album-selling southern rock-and-roll career. It wasn't until 1979 that the oldie but goodie "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" made a name for itself, serving as the cornerstone track on both his triple platinum Million Mile Reflections record and the Urban Cowboy movie soundtrack. Other hits, including "Long Haired Country Boy" and "The Legend of Wooley Swamp," made Daniels' live show an instant attraction, so much so that he soon teamed with other artists to deliver a yearly Volunteer Jam concert.

Daniels has brought together everyone from James Brown and Willie Nelson to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Amy Grant over the years to join in his day-long extravaganzas, which became one of the first examples in music history of how to throw the perfect day-long festival. Daniels has taken a prominent place in the mainstream music world while living out his faith under the spotlight. Plus, after being in the business for so long, Daniels finally has the opportunity to record songs penned by other people, adding his own spin of course. (His last project of that nature was 1999's Tailgate Party, during which Daniels covered southern standards such as "Freebird" and "Pride and Joy" in a live setting).

How Sweet the Sound follows in the Sparrow hymns collection tradition, featuring stars such as Tennessee Ernie Ford, Andy Griffith, and Anne Murray. But Daniels' album stands out as one of the more diverse collections in that list. Obviously, How Sweet the Sound has many different elements than a disc titled Tailgate Party does, but the Charlie Daniels zing is equally powerful. Just about everyone has covered "Amazing Grace" at one point in time, and if anyone could add an additional flair to the priceless gem, it would be Daniels. That track kicks off the album in grandeur with a southern-rock spin and the backing of the boisterous Bobby Jones Super Choir. The same grandeur graces the Hank Williams classic "I Saw the Light," featuring several different background vocalists giving off a similar choir-like effect. "I'll Fly Away" is loaded with Daniels' fiddle-playing fury, featuring a fantastic opening sequence and a consistently interesting beat. "Somebody Was Prayin' for Me," from Daniels' gospel release Steel Witness, is brimming with honky-tonk flavor, but also features old-time influences, including the backing vocals of a pleasant quartet.

Daniels takes a more traditional approach with hymns such as "The Old Rugged Cross," "Blessed Assurance," and "Softly and Tenderly." "Kneel at the Cross," taken from Sparrow's Amazing Grace — A Country Salute to Gospel compilation, also features a no-frills, reverent approach. "Just a Little Closer With Thee" follows down a tamer path than the more fiddle/steel guitar-heavy tunes, but is the best example of the band incorporating blues influences into one of their covers. Daniels croons quite well, as a hint of the Bobby Jones Choir backs up the tune with a soulful presence. The project really picks up the pace toward the end of the second disc when the band lets it all hang out for "Life's Railway to Heaven" and "There is Power in the Blood." Both are examples of southern-fried rock at its best, the first clearly influenced by Stevie Ray Vaughan and the second having more of a modern southern flavor. Daniels' vocal enthusiasm reaches new heights on "There is Power in the Blood" and reminds me of the spastic shouts of the equally legendary Joe Cocker.

Admittedly, sitting through 25 songs in a row from roughly the same era of church history can get a little long no matter how well they're performed. Plus, such a large quantity of material is impossible to interpret differently every single time, causing many of the tracks on this disc to blend together. Perhaps this album is best in small doses, when one can truly appreciate the band's renderings. How Sweet the Sound is a must for longtime fans and a fantastic overview of some the most moving hymns in history.