Various Artists

I'll Fly Away: Country Hymns & Songs of Faith

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In the blizzard of wry and clever barroom romances that pepper the contemporary country charts it's easy to forget about the spiritual and expansive side of country music, which isn't always about the personal and immediate but has also had a long history of tackling big questions like where do we go when we leave this vale of tears, and the answer, of course, is unknown but it is hardly likely to show up at the bottom of a beer bottle in some honky tonk. Call it Sunday morning country (as opposed to the Saturday night variety we're all more familiar with), it is gospel in all but name and approach. This set, produced and mixed by Ed Cash, assembles new recordings by Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, Dolly Parton, Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek), Ronnie Freeman, Korthie Heying and Cash himself into a poignant and graceful sequence of faith and redemption. Highlights include Heying's wonderful version of "I'll Fly Away," Watkins' duet with Gill on "It Is Well with My Soul," a song that hails from the mid-1800s, and Parton's own "River of Happiness," here given a bluegrass sheen. Sobering, at times extremely beautiful, and always wonderfully hopeful, the end result of all of this is a soothing little gem of an album.

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