Three Bridges

Believe

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There are generally only a couple of reasons to listen to Southern gospel music -- to luxuriate in the Word, and to wallow in great harmony singing. But Three Bridges (baritone Elliott McCoy, lead Mitch Kenitzer, and tenor Dave McVay) offer one more reason: to get your boot-scooting boogie on. You wouldn't think it from the cover photo, which shows three graying, middle-aged men with matching suits, matching ties, and big white teeth, but these guys actually know how to rock, and not just in that four-square, galumphing way that's usually the province of graying, middle-aged men -- on "Not the Great I Was" they expertly ride a bluesy country-rock shuffle, and on "Waitin' On Jesus" they bring out the R&B elements of their musical tradition with nicely turned blue notes and a swinging groove. There are other characteristics of Southern gospel music, of course, and one of them is a tendency toward syrupy kitsch. Listeners get that on the overly moist "In the Sky" and the maudlin prodigal son rewrite "Run Back Home to Me," and with the ridiculously over the top arrangement of "America the Beautiful" that ends the album. But those embarrassing moments are easy to forget when they're squeezing the spiritual juice out of the brilliant "Crimson Stream" and the richly soulful "Making a Way." If you already know that you hate gospel music, this album probably won't make a convert out of you. But if you have ears to hear, it may just turn your head around.

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