It might seem a bit incongruous to find "pass the grass" on the back of a new CD by a group calling itself the Churchmen, but all is forgiven when the quintet cuts loose on Traveling Through's opening cut: it's bluegrass, meant for listening, not smoking. "Bedside Prayer" sets the stage for the songs that follow, combining bluegrass music, tight harmonies, and gospel-flavored lyrics. Guitarist Steven Martin, tenor Freddy Rakes, mandolinist Gerald Harbour, bassist Keith Clark, and Dobro player Rick Keen hail from Virginia and cut their teeth performing in -- surprise -- churches in 1989. The Churchmen completed three independent albums before recording On the Journey Home for Pinecastle in 2003. As the credits for Traveling Through note, four of the band's members sing, and two handle lead vocals. This gives the Churchmen plenty of versatility on an attractive set list that includes a number of originals, several songs by Martin, and a classic by Reno & Smiley. Another element that gives the band a slightly different edge than its bluegrass-gospel revivals is Keen's resonator guitar, adding a bluesy undertone and evoking bluegrass greats like the Seldom Scene. Traveling Through digs deep into bluegrass-gospel tradition, and fans of either genre will find much to enjoy here.
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