Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers
Somewhere Beyond the Blue
Billy Blue Records (release date: May 7, 2021)
By Robert M. Marovich
On the eleven-track Somewhere Beyond the Blue, Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers offer southern gospel singing bluegrass style in the tradition of the Louvin Brothers, Carl Story, and the Lewis Family.
Tight harmonies, dynamic banjo solos, and keening fiddle runs support southern gospel songs from the pens of such stalwart songwriters as Vep Ellis, Bill Anderson, and Marty Stuart.
In general, the songs are sermonettes on the virtues of a good life and the promise of an even better one in the hereafter, such as on the a cappella “You Gotta Get Down” (on your knees, if you wanna go up). The group alternates between straightforward southern gospel harmonies and galloping bluegrass breakdowns on Vep Ellis’ “I’m Never Alone.” Conrad Fisher’s introspective “Living Left to Do” runs counter to many gospel songs by hoping that glory will come, but in due time. “Go Spread the Gospel” encourages good works, not just good words.
The Marty Stuart/Jerry Sullivan-penned single, “Hear Jerusalem Calling,” encapsulates the album’s goal of infusing classic southern gospel hymnody with spirited bluegrass picking.
The team gives Chris Rice’s popular “Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus)” an a cappella treatment. Although the harmonies are textured and robust, this version lacks the emotional heft of the instrumental-backed version by gospel singer Micah Stampley. For a country tearjerker, however, Jim Rushing’s “Perfect Healing,” about mother’s final hours, fills the bill. Its simple, purring refrain is the solace the song’s protagonists need at a time of sorrow.
Somewhere Beyond the Blue is a cheerful journey back to the days of all-night singing at the Ryman.
Five of Five Stars
Picks: “Hear Jerusalem Calling,” “Living Left to Do,” “Perfect Healing”