Thursday, February 17, 2011

Songs to Die For--Angel Band

My generous husband bought me a new Gospel music CD the other evening at Cracker Barrel--a bunch of hymns hand-picked by Bill Gaither. It contained a country song I'd never heard before called "Angel Band." (I know, I've been living in a cave.)

The particular performance on the CD doesn't appear to be on-line, but it does feature the immortal Vestal Goodman. So here's the nearest thing I could find: Vestal singing it with country legend George Jones. The video has a great story at the beginning about how Vestal "ran off the devil" when Jones was sunk into a severe depression:


William Luse said...

Good one.

Lydia McGrew said...

I really love the song. Have had it going through my head for a couple of days now.

Here's an interesting thing, which I probably shd. have put in the main post but only really formulated last night: The song begins by saying, "My hardest trials now are past/My triumph is begun." But the chorus, which is what really grabs me at any rate, is an allusion to Psalm 91: "He will give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in thy hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone."

Psalm 91 is about God's protection in danger. When the chorus really gets going, especially in a production with a group singing, it makes me think not of a peaceful death but of martyrdom, of Stephen saying, "I see heaven opened and Jesus sitting at the right hand of God."

It also, though, makes me think of God's rescuing people from martyrdom. I once heard a story which I wish I could remember more clearly of a young man in a Muslim country who was about to be attacked by a mob. Suddenly a man appeared and yelled to them to go away in the name of Jesus Christ, and the mob did. As the story went, no one knew who the man was who drove them off. He just disappeared. That's how I remember it, anyway. Haven't talked to the man who saw it in years. That's the kind of thing that makes one wonder if the event was natural or supernatural, at least if one already has other reason to believe in the supernatural.

Alex said...

Years ago, the Stanley Brothers performing with the Clinch Mountain Boys had a CD issued with Angel Band as the title track. It's a beautiful song. I happen to own that CD because I'm partial to bluegrass music - which I understand is supposed to a rather blue-collar taste.

Anyway, I have quite a large collection of bluegrass CDs which I began when I visited Virginia in 1997 on a tour of Civil War battle sites.

(I think the Stanley Brothers' version is much better than Vestal Goodman's, but I'm biased.)

Lydia McGrew said...

Just looked up the Stanley Brothers' version. Very nice. Very bluegrass. It was (of course) on "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou," apparently along with every other bluegrass artist in the world.

I'm not knowledgeable about any of this, but I do tend to know a bit more about Gospel than about bluegrass. But you'll see a mix on here, Alex. I had "Down in the River to Pray" a while back.

Alex said...

The bluegrass repertoire (if I can call it such) has an abundance of tunes with faith-based words. There's a lot of "unsophisticated" religious sentiment in the words of many songs, but some of them are very affecting. A great plus - whatever you think of the words - is the lovely folk melodies and a wonderful mastery of the traditional instruments of guitar, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle that first-rate bluegrass players possess.

I wouldn't want to get cerebral about this, but I think that to love bluegrass is to love certain aspects of American culture that European highbrows tend to patronize or even to deplore.

(Excuse me Lydia, for explaining things you already know.)

Lydia McGrew said...

Bluegrass is actually usually preferred by highbrows (at least, American highbrows, I don't know about Europeans) to Gospel. The reasons are pretty obvious. Bluegrass has a longer tradition behind it than Gospel and is less emotional. I've even heard it said that bluegrass artists are not supposed to smile while performing. :-) The connection to the audience is definitely different, and I imagine a musical purist would prefer the less "ministry-oriented" bluegrass style.

Jeff Culbreath said...

I had to watch/listen because of that great Old Possum, whose mournful ballads prepared me somewhat for the tragedies of adulthood. Last night I tried to get my wife's Droid, which can recognize tunes by humming or whistling, to recognize me whistling "The Grand Tour" but, alas, George Jones is not on the radar of the computer programming class.