Johnny Buckett

I'm Using My Bible for a Road Map

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The Detroit-based Fortune Records label didn't record much gospel music, either by Black or White practitioners, but when they did, you can rest assured that it was done with the same low-fi, low-budget production methods they applied to their top-of-the-line rhythm & blues product. This is one of the more unknown -- but nonetheless fine -- examples of raw White hillbilly gospel music ever recorded. Buckett, along with his Cumberland River Boys and Girls, turn in ten fine performances of both traditional and original sacred music. Buckett (real name: John Chisenhall) comes up with a really down-home approach and sound on this album starting with the title cut, a call and response between the girls and Buckett and Sanders in two-part harmony. While Buckett's voice is strongly derivative of Ernest Tubb and the total effect is not unlike what a gospel album -- albeit a low budget one -- by the Texas Troubadour would sound like, Buckett gets grade-A support from Freddy Bach on organ, Morris Sanders on fiddle and harmony vocals, and Eddy Neal on electric guitar, the music stays simple and unembellished. The Cumberland River Girls (Millie David, Bonnie Bodart and Sandra Woodward, pictured on the front cover and surely someone's relatives or girlfriends) are another matter entirely. Seldom has off-key singing been well documented with a straight face, as their solo passages in "The Old Rugged Cross," "In the Sweet Bye and Bye," and "What a Friend We Have In Jesus" blatantly demonstrate. But's that part of this album's quirky charm; there's an unvarnished, unrehearsed believability that's almost as immediate as listening to this group coming over a static-filled AM radio station on a Sunday morning. Two of the three original tunes aboard, "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" and "Little Bud," feature a deadpan recitation by Johnny while the girls repeat the lyrics, trilling behind him, making for a back-to-back hunk of sentimentality that are two of the most moving pieces on board. Over-recorded standards like "How Great Thou Art," "Nearer the Cross," "I'll Fly Away," and the obligatory "Rock of Ages" fill out the rest of the album, which would spell snooze alarm in most cases. But despite just how over-recorded and hoary these old public domain chestnuts may be, the simple, unaffected way in which they are interpreted here makes for an album that's totally of one piece. You'll come across gospel music albums played, sung and produced much better than this one, no question. But one would be hard pressed to find one with more down-home charm to it, and it's that nuthin'-special spell it casts that is exactly what makes it so special.