november 2010 header

Lou Reid & Carolina
Rural Rhythm Christian

Coming off 2009’s powerful contemporary bluegrass gem My Own Set of Rules, Lou Reid & Carolina now marshal their instrumental and vocal strengths in service to a rich collection of 14 southern gospel songs of praise, salvation, redemption and jubilation. This is a no-frills event, with Reid’s plaintive tenor and Christy Reid’s lovely, keening soprano mostly carrying the vocal load, with the two Reids on mandolin and bass, respectively, and Shannon Slaughter on guitar and vocals, Trevor Watson on banjo and guest Ron Stewart doing the honors on fiddle.

How to get to Heaven is the overarching theme of the collection, and the songs seem chosen to reflect the multitude of ways one can find the proper path homeward. From the pen of Dennis Duff (whose four songs are among the album’s most memorable) comes the gentle ballad, “Daddy Tried.” The title of course evokes Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried,” a tale of a prisoner who ignored his mother’s best efforts to keep him on the straight and narrow; “Daddy Tried” (which, by the way, has an opening acoustic guitar lick that recalls Merle’s masterpiece, as if in homage), is about the singer’s father, a preacher who feels he’s letting down the Lord by not bringing more “lost sheep,” including his own wayward son, to God’s fold. After dad’s death, the son finds a note in his father’s Bible, apologizing to his offspring for letting him down; in the final verse—“by the grace of God someday/we’ll walk in Heaven side by side”—we learn that the father’s efforts may not have been in vain after all, an affecting and unexpected twist in a beautifully told tale. Conversely, “Mama” (by Lindseys Matt and Dave along with Michael Keith) is a plaintive, low-key bluegrass ballad of a son confessing his love for his mother’s spiritual guidance and moral strength as he pronounces his commitment to “stay on the road straight and true,” guided by her faith and moral strength; Reid’s emotional vocal is one of the album’s highlights, and it gains added punch when Ron Stewart’s sweet fiddling joins the soundscape. The frisky “John In the Jordan” (co-written by Shannon Slaughter) uses the example of its title character to illustrate its tales of people gathering courage to transform their spiritual lives “and wash (their) sins away.” Sometimes an outside influence shows the way Heavenward, and so it is in Camp Rushing’s spirited bluegrass workout, “Missionary Good Book Man,” concerning the impact of a converted alcoholic traveling preacher’s persuasive message “to show the souls of mortal men the way to everlasting life”—a celebration made doubly joyous by Trevor Watson’s jubilant banjo picking and Shannon Slaughter’s responsive, fleet-fingered maneuverings on acoustic guitar. Taking responsibility for your own salvation is an option too, and the quartet gets down to brass tacks on that point in creative four-part harmony on the self-explanatory “It’s Hard To Stumble (When You’re Down On Your Knees).” And for good measure, a traditional chestnut is included to underscore the rewards of salvation, “Sweet By and By,” done to a turn in a loping arrangement keyed by Watson’s lively banjo, Reid’s tender mandolin and Stewart’s warm fiddling, all providing affecting support to Christy Reid’s trilling, Dolly Parton-like vocal in a performance that gathers real force as she delivers a deliberate but earnest message with unwavering conviction. So take your pick—Sounds Like Heaven To Me offers several viable options for arriving at the pearly gates, and Lou Reid & Carolina serve admirably and honorably as travel agents whose advice is worthy of any stray soul’s trust.—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024