CD Review: Pickin’ Praisin’ & Singin’: Hymns From the Mountain (Cody Shuler & Pine Mountain Railroad)

pineRating: 4 stars (of 5)

Average Song Rating: 3.8 stars (of 5)

Group Members: Jerry Cole (tenor/lead, bass/rhythm/lead guitar), Cody Shuler (lead/tenor, mandolin), Dale Thomas (baritone, guitar/banjo), Bill McBee (bass, acoustic bass), Matt Flake (fiddle).

Song List: My Eyes Shall Be on Canaan’s Land; I Bowed On My Knees and Cried Holy; Blood Bought My Freedom; When We All get to Heaven; Where the Soul Never Dies; The Gospel Ship; Run On; Let’s Meet By the River; This World is Not My Home; How Beautiful Heaven Must Be; So High; The Old Rugged Cross; Over in the Gloryland; What Would You Give In Exchange; Rock of Ages; I’m Getting Ready to Leave This World.

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Cody Shuler & Pine Mountain Railroad is a five-piece bluegrass group that has won a number of awards and has received a nomination for Best Bluegrass Album in the 2009 Dove Awards. They appear to be fairly popular in Christian bluegrass, but they also have deep Southern Gospel roots (as the song list makes clear).

The album contains quite a few hymns and Southern Gospel classics, as well as a number of new and more recent tunes. One of the strongest of these is the opening cut, “My Eyes Shall Be on Canaan’s Land.” The track, penned by Cody Shuler, could have passed for a classic ’30s or ’40s convention-style tune, and is ably rendered by the group. It was the first radio single from the project.

Another highlight is “I Bowed On My Knees and Cried Holy.” It’s seemingly the only recording of the song in the past 25 years where the lead vocalist is not making any attempt to be the next Michael English. Pre-English renditions of the song can be found here and there; these are typically fairly straight-ahead renderings. This rendition is unique. Even people sick and tired of the numerous English-influenced renditions will find something to enjoy in this arrangement. This breathes fresh air into a classic—no small feat with this particular song.

Other recent Southern Gospel influences can be seen in “Blood Bought My Freedom,” an original song by the Primitive Quartet’s Reagan Riddle, and “Let’s Meet By the River,” a hit for the Spencers in the 1980s.

The group also gives a nod to their bluegrass heritage with their cover of the Monroe Brothers’ “What Would you Give in Exchange.”

The project’s music tracks are solidly bluegrass, but the vocal arrangements are solidly rooted in Southern Gospel, albeit with a bluegrass twang. This is a group worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the Primitive Quartet and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. Many Southern Gospel fans should enjoy this fusion of our genre’s music with a bluegrass twang.

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