For some artists, a spiritual awakening fills their work with hope and sunlight. For others, the more they focus on their relationship with the Lord, the more they see the darkness and chaos in the fallen world around them, and it takes their art to places that are both fascinating and troubling. Bryan Simpson left the successful bluegrass combo Cadillac Sky in 2010 after he reached a crossroads in his faith, and the self-titled debut album from his solo project the Whistles & the Bells is a set of songs that explores his own take on Christianity in ways that are both exhilarating and uncompromising. With a large rotating cast of musicians and vocalists backing him up, Simpson kicks up a dusty cyclone of rootsy sounds on these sessions, with rock & roll, country, bluegrass, blues, and soul all swimming through these tunes, and even the quietest moments on The Whistles & the Bells are filled with energy and passion. But Simpson clearly meant the music on The Whistles & the Bells to serve the message of his lyrics, and the high, fierce tone of his vocals is a impressive fit for these stories, which deal eloquently with the certainty of Simpson's faith and the mysteries of how God's will manifests itself on our temporal plane. Simpson tells the unlikely story of how he accepted the Lord on "Transistor Resistor," scoffs at the temptations of worldly satisfactions in "Ghetto Gold," weighs the comforts and the uncertainties of a life of faith in "Cosmic Torpedoes," and acknowledges the challenges meted out to both the faithful and the faithless in "Bad Superheroes." Simpson doesn't spend much time castigating sinners (at least those other than himself), but he isn't hesitant to call out the moral failings of our culture as he sees them, and anyone who doesn't care to ponder such matters might feel a bit uncomfortable with The Whistles & the Bells. But musically, this is a powerful and exciting set of songs, and Simpson sings of his relationship with the Lord with passion, sincerity, and genuine wit. The Whistles & the Bells may not be for everyone, but few works as uncompromising as this ever are, and it's certainly too thoughtful and well-crafted to ignore.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming