Sounds like … a mix of acoustic and electric blues, recalling blues greats such as Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, Blind Willie Johnson, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Eric ClaptonAt a Glance … Ripley County Blues is an excellent Christian blues album due to finely written songs, talented musicians, and an interesting ambiance created by the recording locale.
Though probably best known for his work as a classic Christian rock artist from his time with Resurrection Band, Glenn Kaiser may well be the most important advocate of blues in the Christian music industry today. The Jesus People USA (JPUSA) pastor and Chicago native has revisited the genre for years to varying degrees of success, acclaim, and authenticity. Ripley County Blues is definitely one of the better blues efforts presented by Glenn. Reteaming again with bassist Roy Montroy and drummer Ed Bialach, who both played on last year's excellent Carolina Moon disc, Glenn offers 14 tracks on Ripley County Blues that remain true to the genre while offering strong lyrics of faith and praise.
The gimmick this time is the recording venue, and thereby the ambiance of this album. Twenty years ago, JPUSA built a huge log cabin lodge in southern Missouri, which has served as a retreat center for years. This picturesque setting and acoustically unique facility became the backdrop for the songs of Ripley County Blues, with Glenn and the gang aiming for a very straightforward live sound with minimal overdubbing. The results are excellent – raw and ambient with the lodge's natural reverb, it's kind of like hearing the power trio in a small intimate blues club, which is exactly what you'd hope for in a blues recording.
The three musicians' talents are as impressive as always, though Glenn's guitar skills really stand out this time. Whereas Carolina Moon was a truly collaborative effort, most of the songs on Ripley County Blues were written completely by Glenn, and he plays solo on a few of the tracks. The album is a mix of traditionally styled acoustic blues (Leadbelly, Blind Willie Johnson) and electric blues (B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn). Personally, I prefer the electric blues tracks the most. Rob Montroy is primarily responsible for "Nick of Time," a classic electric blues song in the vein of U2's "When Love Comes to Town" about God providing our daily needs. Rob also contributed to the Clapton-esque "Mystery." Glenn, otherwise, handles all of the songwriting himself. He nails the classic Stevie Ray Vaughn sound on "I Got My Eyes on You," which reminds us that God doesn't just look out for sparrows. "Runaway Train" sets a Judgment Day theme to fast-paced rockabilly blues, and "Workday Blues" is well suited to the genre by expressing the futility of letting the world rule our lives instead of God. Glenn also came up with an absolutely fabulous blues arrangement of the traditional gospel song "Do Lord."
Though I prefer the electric blues on Ripley County Blues, the acoustic blues are the heart of the album and set it apart from past forays into Christian blues albums – they're grittier and best fit the mental picture of the lodge in which they were recorded. "Blue Rain Fall" is a perfect example of how to merge the usually depressing lyrical content of the blues genre with a Christian perspective: "God knows I ain't complainin', but sometimes I still do / When the rain falls with a vengeance, separatin' me an' you ? Lord help me love like you." The confessional "Deliver Me" sounds as though it was inspired by "Amazing Grace," and the folksy "Promises He'll Keep" is a nice riff on the Beatitudes. In "Keep It to Yourself," Glenn writes the blues from Christ's perspective, questioning why we have a hard time refraining from telling everyone when we're in love with someone special, yet we keep the love of Christ to ourselves. The arrangement is stripped down and raw, featuring Glenn solo on steel guitar and harmonica. Similarly, Glenn carries the title track on dobro, painting the picture of a poor community and a man in need of hearing the Gospel. The album closes with a fine upbeat blues-folk arrangement of Blind Willie Johnson's simplistic "Take Your Stand." Assuming you're a fan of good blues music written from a Christian perspective, Ripley County Blues completely satisfies.