Prime Cuts: If I Was God, More than a Name on a Wall, Far Side Banks of Jordan
Country music and Christian music both share a common rhetoric: both genres are traditionally entrenched in strong family values with a deep reverence for the sacred. This is why many country albums that came out in the 70s often end with a Gospel song, giving praise to the Lord. Occasionally, you will find artists cross pollinating the two genres: recently, Carrie Underwood scored a #1 on the Christian chart with "Something in the Water," while Christian artist Jimmy Needham recorded his rendition of Randy Travis' #1 smash "Forever and Ever, Amen." Further, country acts such as Alan Jackson, T. Graham Brown, Tim Menzies, and Oak Ridge Boys have all dropped Christian-themed records which were all well received in both markets. Now, it's Jimmy Fortune's turn.
For 21 years, Fortune sang tenor for the Statler Brothers. He joined them as a replacement for the ailing Lew DeWitt in 1982 and joined the group permanently when DeWitt was unable to return to the stage. Fortune wrote several number one songs that were recorded by the Statler Brothers, including "Elizabeth," "Too Much on My Heart," "My Only Love," and "More Than a Name on a Wall." Partnering with Gaither Music, Fortune has released his debut solo record for the imprint "Hits and Hymns." As the titular suggests, "Hits and Hymns" contains Fortune's take of 10 hymns augmented by his re-recordings of 5 of his own songs that were first made famous by the Statler Brothers.
Quite appropriately, "Elizabeth" starts off the proceedings. "Elizabeth" was the first among a chain of hits penned by Fortune for the Statler Brothers. It was also the first single to feature Fortune on lead vocals. Coming full circle again, Fortune re-records "Elizabeth" as this album's opener. Modern songwriters would do well to learn from Fortune - all it takes to craft a great and timeless song is a simple but affecting melody. "Elizabeth" is such an example---- simple, elegant, and with a bull's eye target for the heart. Spine-chilling moments abound with "If I Was God" ---- a penetrating song addressed to God questioning the Almighty about the purpose of accidents and sufferings. More tear inducing moments come with "More than a Name on a Wall." A mammoth hit for the Statler Brothers, "More Than a Name" tells a pulverizing tale of a mother visiting the grave of her son who died in the Vietnam War. Remember to keep your Kleenex nearby when you listen to this song.
The rest of the disc are Fortune's take of the hymns. Rather than tackling them with one montanous sweep, Fortune takes the time to breathe individuality to each hymn. "Life's Railway to Heaven" has a bluegrass tint, "Far Side Banks of the Jordan" has a delightful Western swing, "Rock of Ages" has an air of Appalachian mountain freshness, and "Victory in Jesus" will make Ricky Skaggs proud. However, one is a perplexed as to the reason why "Danny Boy" is included. As lovely as the melody is, it is not a hymn. Nevertheless, after all these years, Fortune still sounds fresh, engaging, and contemporary. The making of this record is more han just a 9 to 5 assembly job. Rather, Fortune puts his soul in the crafting and re-interpreting of these classics, making this record worth listening to again and again.