For more than three decades, Alan Bibey has been among the more accomplished mandolin players on the national bluegrass circuit, a well-traveled veteran whose resume has included stints as a founding member of IIIrd Tyme Out and well-respected bands like BlueRidge. About 15 years ago, he teamed up with Steve Gulley (Mountain Heart) and Phil Leadbetter (J. D. Crowe & The New South) to form Grasstowne. As is the way in the world of bluegrass, the names and faces in the band came and went - including Gulley and Leadbetter - and by the time the fourth album came along in 2015, Bibey was fronting the band on his own.
This new project features Bibey and his current supporting cast (Zak McLamb, bass; Laura Orshaw, fiddle; Justin Jenkins, banjo; Tony Watt, guitar) in an all-gospel collection of 12 tracks drawn from a variety of sources that include contemporary bluegrass writers like Becky Buller ("New Life"), Ronnie Bowman ("Bloodstained Bible"), husband/wife duo Donna Ulisse and Rick Stanley ("When Jesus Swings The Wrecking Ball," also released as a single) and Bibey himself ("He's Right There"). As the title track suggests, the album is less about fire-and-brimstone and more about a positive, hopeful outlook - something of a comfort in a time when many are being told they can't visit the places where they share and celebrate their faith.
Bibey is the primary vocalist, but he gives Orshaw, McLamb and Jenkins plenty of opportunities to show their stuff as well, notably on the a cappella quartet rendition of "Keep Your Eyes On The Prize," the venerable spiritual (also known variously as "Hold On," "Gospel Plow" and other titles) popularized in the folk music scene of the 1950s by Pete Seeger and heard throughout the Civil Rights era. It's nicely done, and in keeping with the quality of the vocals through the entire set. The band is instrumentally solid as well. The material covers a variety of moods and tempos, is tastefully arranged and crisply produced. Pretty much what you'd expect from a thoroughly professional band of this caliber.