Various Artists

How Great Thou Art: Gospel Favorites from the Grand Ole Opry

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Country music's interconnection with gospel goes way back, a deliberate synthesis that began, at least commercially, in the early 1900s, and the two genres have informed each other back and forth ever since. In the contemporary era, where country has taken on more and more of a pop sheen, becoming in many cases a reconfiguring of what used to be called country-rock a dozen years ago, singing gospel has become a way for current stars to reconnect with their actual country roots, and as this 12-track collection shows, for all the high-pressure marketing that goes into the country music business these days, a good gospel tune amounts to a good cleansing. Nowhere has this been more obvious than on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, which has featured country gospel spots for some eight decades now, and while it's possible to ride smooth production, a clever video, and a snappy pop tune up the charts, singing a gospel standard and pulling it off on the venerable Opry stage quite simply requires talent. Many of the selections presented here were recorded at a taping for a GAC TV special done on January 20, 2008, while a handful of the tracks were recorded at earlier Opry appearances between the years 2000 and 2008. The result is a warm, soothing, and at times deeply moving album that reinforces the long dialogue between country and gospel. Among the clear highlights are a blistering rendition of "I'll Fly Away" by Charlie Daniels (with Mac Powell of Third Day sitting in), a haunting "Precious Memories" (dedicated to the late Porter Wagoner) from Patty Loveless, and a wonderful and perfectly phrased version of "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" by Sara Evans, but everything here comes off as a quality performance and what could have easily been a tossed-off album, particularly with a TV show as the main focus, is instead full of substance and sincerity, two qualities that are always welcome (and too often in short supply) in the world.

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