one of the great repertoires in american song is bluegrass gospel. the form was of course established by bill monroe's early bands, and he used to break off a set in each show to do something more quiet, meditative, and based on quartet harmonies rather than virtuoso instrumental runs. but the style drew from a very eclectic set of resources: the hymnal and choir parts, of course; black spirituals, blues, and gospel (which had already been criss-crossed with white church music throughout); popular religious music (no bluegrass band couldn't do you some version of 'i saw the light'); original compositions. the repertoire was established especially by the stanley brothers, whose gospel recordings are just chillingly amazing, and flatt and scruggs (who i'd tend to minimize a bit in this area, except especially as providing important parts to the songbook). of course there are many other contributors.
ever since, it has been traditional for virtually every bluegrass group of any description in every era to play some gospel songs; traditionally it's the last cut even on a set of love songs. many artists made a living at it, of course, touring rural churches throughout the country.
the form has continued throughout to absorb many eclectic influences while returning again and again to the classics. i actually have to say i particularly love love the era that has emerged since the 80s: where the stanleys made your hair stand up because they sounded like they were singing from the nineteenth century or from reality itself, groups such as doyle lawson and quicksilver, hot rize, iiird tyme out, audie blaylock and and redline, johnson mountain boys/longview, dailey and vincent have absolutely perfected the harmonies, which are, i say, celestial. you lose something because they don't sound so wild and rural. you gain some of the most simply and intensely and elaborately beautiful music ever made. it's still the high tenors that grab you by the throat and transport you to another realm, so to speak: russell moore, dudley connell, darrin vincent, audie blaylock, tim o'brien. they're very intensely expressive. and superb craftsmanship never hurt a soul, other things being equal.
don't hate it cause it's religious even if you're not! if anyone could be converted into a snakehandler by listening to this material over and over, i'd be writhing by now. you listened to all that marley and you don't believe that haile selassie is the living god, am i right? your beliefs emerged unscathed from your encounter with the sistine ceiling etc. admittedly it's a relief that people aren't singing about depravity or consumer products. or even about themselves. it seems wholesome. but it has its light side and its dark. this is definitely one way people face death.
all of the items listed below are superlative examples of human skill and love.
Audie Blaylock and Redline
"Who'll Sing for Me?"
"Lord Lead Me On"
"He is Near"
"Pray the Clouds Away"
Dailey & Vincent
"By the Mark"
"Living in the Kingdom of God"
"Oh Ye Must Be Born Again"
"When I've Traveled My Last Mile"
Dale Ann Bradley
"Passed Through the Crowd"
"Clinging to a Saving Hand"
Dry Branch Fire Squad
"I'll Be No Stranger"
"Lookinf for the Stone"
"Memories that Bless and Burn"
"Hide You in the Blood"
"Were You There?"
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
"Hiding From the Storm Outside"
"The Cross Road"
"When We Meet to Part No More"
"Hear Jerusalem Moan"
"You Don't Have to Move That Mountain"
"Working on a Building"
"Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning"
"Tenderly Calling (Home, C'mon Home)"
IIIrd Tyme Out
"Drifting Too Far From the Shore"
"When He Reached Down His Hand for Me"
"I Pray My Way Out of Trouble"
"Just Call on Him"
"He'll Take You In"
"I'm Working on the Road To Glory Land"
"It's a Lonesome Road"
"He Said if I Be lifted Up"
"Drifting Too Far From the Shore"
"Lord Protect My Soul"
"Eternity Has Begun"
Johnson Mountain Boys
"I've Found a Hiding Place"
"Harbor of Love"
"Get Down on Your Knees and Pray"
"God's Not Dead"
"See God's Ark A'Movin"
"Voice of My Savior"
"Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown?"
Nashville Bluegrass Band, ""Father I Stretch My Hand to Thee"
The Bluegrass Album Band, "Model Church"
Alison Krauuss and Union Station, "Heaven's Bright Shore"
Tim Graves and Daryl Mosley, "Satan's Jeweled Crown"
Del McCoury, "I Know His Voice"
Devin Jake, "Gathering Flowers for the Master's Bouquet"
Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, "Come Spring"
Karl Shifflett and Big Country Show, "Standing in the Need of Prayer"