Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Billy: The Early Years (Official Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Surprises abound on this tribute to Billy Graham’s early years

Billy: The Early Years (Official Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Artist: Various
Label: Essential
Length: 12 tracks/37:04 minutes

You might imagine that the soundtrack for a movie about one of the greatest evangelists that has ever lived would be full of inspirational songs from popular CCM artists. If you thought that way, you are in for a big surprise. Billy: The Early Years is dominated by country artists—including many that I was not familiar with or had never heard of—performing mostly stripped-down acoustic songs. Except for the last three tracks, which are hymns, creative original songs dominate this release. The sparse production gives both the hymns and the new songs a fresh sound.

The only CCM-sounding song is “Amazing Love” by Michael W. Smith and Melinda Doolittle. This is a decent song, but it doesn’t fit the style of the rest of the release. Another curious addition is “In Dreams” by the legendary Roy Orbison. This is not as good as some of his songs like “Pretty Woman,” which have become popular in recent years. It’s one of three love songs.

The love songs pay tribute to Graham’s early relationship with his wife Ruth. Her own words about what she wanted in a husband are featured in “Ruth’s Prayer,” sung by Patty Griffin.

Other songs wistfully look toward heaven as in “Over the Next Hill,” a strong duet between Brooks & Dun and Mac Powell of Third Day.

Josh Turner could pass for a young George Beverly Shea on “Almost Persuaded,” the bittersweet hymn about being close to salvation but still being lost. Turner sings the song with great dignity.

“Just As I Am” starts with a choir of voices that rise above stringed instruments. Sierra Hull adds her voice midway through and at the end she alone is left singing. It’s an effective technique that wonderfully reinvigorates this hymn, which has been used to close so many Billy Graham Crusades.

Brad Paisley does an excellent instrumental guitar version of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

I can’t help thinking that the Graham family would be pleased with the artistry and dignity found on each of these tracks. I like the clear annunciation of words and the sparse acoustic instrumentation.

It’s a shame that the movie has not done well. It may mean that fewer people will give this CD a chance.

I had low expectations before hearing it, but this CD was a pleasant surprise.
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