Published Dec 17, 2015The gospel album is a staple of bluegrass music, and yet it's not familiar territory for Canadian bands these days, who tend to prefer material that showcases their instrumental chops, often at the expense of getting the vocals just right. Toronto's Barrel Boys, who already have one album and an EP under their belts, are no slouches on their instruments. Rob McLaren (banjo), Nathan Smith (fiddle), Ben Wright (guitar), Tim O'Reilly (bass), and Kyle Kirkpatrick (dobro) can rip it up with the best of them. But on their new EP, Gospel Hour, the band show off their vocals most of all. Ranging from a deep bass to a stratospheric tenor, every member of this band can really sing, and more importantly, they sing well together. Tracks like the a cappella "Heavenly Sunlight" show this in spades.
The seven-song selection includes commonly heard numbers like "Wayfaring Stranger," and old chestnuts that get less air play these days, like "Jordan," all artfully arranged and clean as a whistle. And unlike so many recent treatments of country gospel (i.e. the ironic fascination with the Louvin Brothers' Satan Is Real), there isn't a hint of tongue-in-cheek in the delivery of these songs, even though the album art — a stylized bible cover — suggests the band approached the project light-heartedly.
With tight harmonies, and clear, earnest singing, the Barrel Boys do these bluegrass gospel classics justice, and then some. Gospel Hour may only have 20 minutes of music on it, but it's enough to make you a believer. (Independent)