Bluegrass gospel is one of the mainstays of the genre and many of the style’s finest songs boast a spiritual inspiration. The King James Boys are a devout quartet who never envisioned taking their music to the larger public when they first formed. 1994, however, is a long time ago and the intervening 28 years saw the members decide to take their music to anyone with a desire to hear it. They aren’t writing, recording, and performing music like this for fame or fortune. It’s something much more personal driving the band’s dive members and that’s reflected in their music.
It’s particularly strong in their new single “The Devil’s Not Afraid of a Dusty Bible”. It’s as traditionally minded as anything the band has played before and portrays, in clear yet eloquent lyrics, the perils of not seeking out God’s counsel and word. The interplay between the banjo, fiddle, and guitar is the musical key for me, especially the banjo, and Curtis Lewis’ deft touch with the instrument is one of the band’s greatest strengths. Lead singer Randy Spencer’s voice is ideal for the arrangement and blends well with their singers.
It’s the harmony vocals, however, that will cast the strongest spell. They bring the lyrics to life as performed poetry and provide another vibrant musical layer that’s a perfect match for the instruments. The production may seem like it has an easy task rendering this music for listeners, but it’s harder than it sounds and each instrument, as well of the vocals, are well represented in the mix.
The song’s message is another crucial part of its potential. You can divorce yourself from religious concerns and themes, if you like, and interpret this song in a secular fashion. Believers, however, will take great nourishment from the “lesson” the band attempts to gently impart. Make no mistake, it has an instructive tone, but it’s never heavy-handed. The song holds together supremely well.
It’s evidence of the seriousness they have for their task. This is far from mindless entertainment, though they certainly seek to provide a measure of comfort for their audience, It’s music intended to give uplift and one can expect that the remaining songs on the album from which it’s taken, Walk on Faith, share the same mission. It’s heartening in a world beset with so many problems to hear a musical unit connected to what’s eternal rather than sitting around and taking their own temperature or else chasing the latest flavor of the moment.
“The Devil’s Not Afraid of a Dusty Bible” recalls simpler times, but that isn’t a bad thing. It’s tethered to something made of sterner stuff than cell phones, memes, and Twitter wars. The King James Boys aren’t looking to make converts and, in some ways, they are catering to a specific audience above all others, but there’s room enough under their tent for anyone. Let’s join them there and enjoy the fine music they make for as long as they want to keep playing.