(Vital Records, CD)
On their fourth album, Makes You Strong, Bluegrass Gospel Project solidifies their legacy as one of the greatest acoustic bands ever to spring from northern Vermont. It's no small wonder, as each of the band's six members is a seasoned player.
Ace mandolinist and tenor vocalist Taylor Armerding covers the high end with style. His gospel originals sound authentic enough to be Stanley Brothers numbers from 50 years ago.
Guitarist and crooner Paul Miller possesses one of the band's sweetest solo voices. When he duets with singer Patti Casey, the sun comes out and angels smile. In BGP, Casey has finally found a band that truly values her vocal and songwriting abilities.
Bassist/vocalist Jim DiSabito sings with heart while providing much of the band's rhythmic drive. Steve Light is rock-solid on banjo and guitar; he also sings beautiful harmony and shows himself to be a wicked dobro player.
Fiddler Gene White's style has grown more confident over time, and on this recording he also takes a turn on guitar and percussion.
It's not just high talent level that makes this band special. The sextet has created a mighty, unified sound that honors tradition, while taking the music in exciting new directions.
The new collection features 12 songs plus a hidden track - a cover of the Emmylou Harris chestnut "One of These Days." The styles represented run the gamut from country gospel classics by Hank Williams' - "A House of Gold" - and Vince Gill's "All Prayed Up" to originals by Armerding and Casey. The latter provides a re-make of her tune "Down From Canada," from her 2000 solo album Under Different Skies.
BGP's cover of the Jesse Winchester ballad "That's What Makes You Strong" features everything there is to love about the band: a gorgeous lead vocal by Miller, sweet harmony from Casey on the refrain, sparse but tasty mandolin and dobro by Armerding and Light, and rhythmic groove by DiSabito and White.
Many cuts on Makes You Strong are culled from live performances; listen closely and you'll hear smatterings of applause. Still, the band's stage sound is even more transcendent than this recording illustrates.
Bluegrass Gospel Project will wrap up a New England tour with two live performances at one of their favorite venues, the Old Meeting House in East Montpelier, on Friday and Saturday night. Don't snooze on tickets - the band has never sounded better, and these shows will sell out.