Prime Cuts: Things I've Never Seen, Ravens Still Fly, I'll Have a New Life
When Southern Raised sings we listen. Just like when Alison Krauss first came to the airwaves, there's something about the sound of these siblings that harkens us to the halcyon days of hawthorn-filled air perfumed with the pungency of the spring blossoms. Though never sounding dated, the Southern Raised brand of bluegrass Gospel gives narration to Scriptural truths enacted through heartwarming stories of rustic and nostalgic charm that is difficult to resist. Southern Raised consists of a quartet of siblings, comprising of sisters Lindsay, Sarah and Emily and their brother Matthew. Trained originally in classical music, they have morphed into a bluegrass sound that recalls the aforementioned Alison Krauss and Rhonda Vincent. Collectively, they have received nominations from Singing News Fan Awards, Front Porch Fellowship and a staggering 31 SPBGMA Midwest Nominations.
"Make a Difference" is their sixth album release. And it's also their most ambitious record to date. Helmed by Gaither Vocal Band's Kevin Williams, the album is engineered by the legendary Bil VornDick. As an engineer and producer, the 7 time Grammy winning VornDick is responsible for crafting the sounds on countless albums including those of Ralph Stanley, Marty Robbins, Bela Fleck and the recently deceased Jesse Winchester. Name dropping aside, the pride of "Make a Difference" is still in the songs. While many bluegrass Gospel records have erred on the side of lightning fast solos and a frantic jumble of strings at the expense of solid teased out lyrics and tunes, Southern Raised has wisely avoided such a pitfall. Recalling C. S. Lewis' Narnia tales is "He Came Up a Lion." In a Biblically way, they have gorgeously captured the vulnerability of Jesus on the Cross as well as the triumphant victory of the Savior at his resurrection with artistic aplomb.
Nevertheless, the album's apex is when the siblings croon a ballad. Donned in the persona of a woman who has lived long enough to see the ebbs and flows of life, "Things I've Never Seen" is a meditative testimony that affirms the constancy of the Lord's guidance even through life's darkest enclaves. Nested in the plangent cry of the fiddle, "Ravens Still Fly" is an encouraging tale of hope for those of us marred by life's disappointments. "Grandpa's Fiddle" calls to mind Patty Loveless' "The Grandpa That I Know." It's one of those sentimental ruminative numbers that triumphs in the narrative's details. And there's just a certain je ne sais quoi in the way Southern Raised sings that can easily induces tears from our eyes.
Yet not all is laconic. Album opener "Flow River Flow" is more or less a typical florid bluegrass romper that brings to life once again the account of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. While all instruments are in recess in the layered harmony driven "I'll Have a New Life" that is nothing short of breathtaking. Maybe it's the way the quartet sings or maybe it's the songs or maybe it's both, "Make a Difference" is the record that draws us into the audience of the Savior in ways that won't let go.