Recommend A Religious Album

jesus-thumps-up1Many people may mistake my cynicism regarding, what I perceive as, heavy handed God centric songs in country music as not having appreciation for religious songs as a rule. This, in fact, is not accurate. While I cringe at certain religiously themed songs that feel too forced or contrived, I will admit here that I am easily taken in by religious songs. In fact, Randy Travis’ Worship And Faith is one of my favorite albums from his expansive discography. Likewise, I can’t get enough of Iris Dement’s Lifeline. While I, of course, always recommend those albums to all who haven’t heard it yet, there is somebody else that I urge you to check out if you don’t mind some “ old time religion in your heart.”

I don’t listen to his more contemporary music, but one of my favorite religious albums is Fernando Ortega’s Hymns and Worship. Ortega’s easy tenor and sincere interpretation of oft sung songs is calming and good for my soul. I like the whole thing, but there are three songs in particular that I can offer to Country Universe readers, since they happen to be sonically rooted in country music.

“Children of the Living God”

This is one of the more up-tempo songs on the album. It prominently features Alison Krauss, along with unmistakable country instrumentation.

“How Firm A Foundation”

I’ve always liked this song. The melody is a bit different than what I’m used to, but I like it better. The production is very organic with a bit of a Celtic flavor.

“Give Me Jesus”

When I heard Vince Gill sing this on the telecast of a Grand Ole Opry special, he explained that he learned this song through Fernando Ortega. It’s a simple song with minimal lyrics that touched me uncharacteristically deeply. while I’m partial to Vince’s version, Ortega’s is likely equally good. Not surprisingly, Vince’s performance and back-story is how I stumbled upon this album in the first place. Vince’s lovely recording is simply accompanied by a piano. While Ortega is actually a pianist, his version is tastefully mixed with guitar, piano and violin.

What religious album do you recommend?


  1. There is some great religious albums out there – Even though I pretty much only go to church on Christmas and Easter, I love a good “Sunday” song…(I live for those Lyin’ Cheatin’ Honkytonkin’ songs, however.)
    Ricky Van Shelton and Alan Jackson’s CDs are two great ones that come to mind.
    Dolly also recorded a gem in 1999 called “Precious Memories” a CD of traditional songs such as “In the Garden”, “In the Sweet Bye and Bye”, and my personal favorite; “Farther Along”

  2. All of my Religious Albums are Christian Rock, which I don’t think really applies here.

    Actually, now that I think about it, I have Alan Jackson’s “Precious Memories” around here somewhere.

  3. Tracy Lawrence’s The Rock immediately comes to mind. Barbed Wire Halo by Aaron Watson is also pretty good as well as Everybody’s Brother by Billy Joe Shaver

  4. I really have trouble with contemporary Country’s treatment of most religiously themed music. It does often sound kitchy, contrived or cliche’d to me.

    I can’t think of any religiously themed albums that I’d recommend per se, but in general, I think the Bluegrass/Gospel tradition handles religious music far better, and in a way that perserves the dignity and majesty such songs deserve…

    Give me the Stanley’s Angel Band, Del McCoury’s (and now Patty Loveless’) Working on A Building, Allison Krauss’s version of I’ll Fly Away, and Down to the River to Pray, Patty’s versions of Daniel Prayed, Two Coats, and Rise Up Lazarus..

    Oh, I guess there is a religious album I’d recommened, and that is the Opry compilation “How Great Thou Art, which includes such highlights as Sara Evans’ version of Just A Closer Walk, Patty Loveless’ version of Prescious Memories, and Carrie Underwood’s version of the title cut “How Great Thou Art”.

  5. Tennessee Ernie Ford’s album from the 1960s – HYMNS.

    My college roommate was an atheist (still is) but he thought the beauty of the singing made it worth having despite its subject matter

  6. Dement’s Lifeline is a great one. I also really, really like:
    Flatt & Scruggs, “Foggy Mountain Gospel,”
    Del McCoury Band, “The Promised Land,”
    Marty Stuart “Soul’s Chapel,”
    Johnny Cash, “Unearthed IV: My Mother’s Hymn Book.”

    The Hank Williams Mother’s Best “Gospel Keepsakes” is a pretty good collection too.

  7. The only applicable ones that I own are Alan Jackson’s Precious Memories and the Three Wooden Crosses various artist compilation. I believe Diamond Rio is releasing one this fall.

  8. Juli says:
    August 13, 2009 at 10:21 am
    “Dement’s Lifeline is a great one. I also really, really like:
    Flatt & Scruggs, “Foggy Mountain Gospel,”
    Del McCoury Band, “The Promised Land,”
    Marty Stuart “Soul’s Chapel,”
    Johnny Cash, “Unearthed IV: My Mother’s Hymn Book.”

    The Hank Williams Mother’s Best “Gospel Keepsakes” is a pretty good collection too.”

    Juli, those all sound like great suggestions…I forget how much great Traditional religious music has been out there all along by Country artists.

    I haven’t heard Alan Jackson’s Precious Memories yet, actually I think I saw him perform some Gospel standards on a TV show, and as I recall, he handled them very well, really did them justice.

    Paul, I’m not surprised by your college roomate’s reaction, great religous music transcends belief…

    And I actually do have an album I’d like to add to the convesation, Patty Loveless’ Bluegrass and White Snow, a Mountain Christmas…I know Christmas albums could be a whole seperate topic, but when it comes down to it, great Christmas music is great religious music. And Patty adeptly combines warm Mountain hospitality with transcendant spiritual grandeur on this fine album,…highly recommended.

  9. Steve,
    How’d I know?

    Great suggestions, Juli. I need to check out that Del McCoury album, since he’s become a newly acquired taste for me.

    That’s a great gospel album. I was going to suggest it in the comments if nobody else did. It’s actually one of my favorite albums of Alison’s.

  10. This is an awesome topic.

    For straight-out religious albums, my favorites are Loretta Lynn’s Who Says God is Dead! and Johnny Cash’s My Mother’s Prayer Book.

    For albums with religious themes, Cowgirl’s Prayer by Emmylou Harris and Kathy Mattea’s Roses.

    My favorite religious song is a bit unconventional but I find it motivating and inspiring – Madonna’s “Isaac.” I also really like Amy Grant’s “Sing Your Praise to the Lord” just because of the extended musical intro.

  11. Speaking of Amy Grant, I love her two hymns projects. Vince co-produces them and you can really hear his influence, not to mention that he provides a lot of the background vocals.

  12. Leeann, you knew because I can be a little predictable, yes it’s true…;)

    Still, great choice wouldn’t you say?

  13. Yes, Steve, it’s a great album. I can’t catagorize it as a full fledged religious album though due to, you know, references to Santa Claus and various other unreligious things.:)

    Speaking of artist obsession, I like that Amy Grant song, but I especially like the newest version with Vince from her second hymns project.

  14. Ha ha,good point, but you can look at it this way, songs like Santa Train aren’t religous except that they embody the spririt of giving…Still, you didn’t say the album had to be entirely religious, BGWS is only mostly religious, the secular songs on the album may be “unreligious” but at least they are not anti-religious.

    Next you’ll be telling me there is no Santa..

    Must check out Amy and Vince’s new version of El-Shaddai, sounds great! :)

  15. Dottie Rambo was the finest Gospel songwriter in Nashville: as good as Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson or Willie Nelson. “The Rambos Collection” is the single best collection by any artist of Southern Gospel.

    “Southern Gospel’s Top 20 Songs of the Century” is the best collection of various artists. If you grew up in the South and know what Wednesday night prayer meeting is, you probably know nearly every song. And these are the classic versions of these songs. Midnight Cry by Gold City. God, that was good.

    And for recent collections of hymns (which seemed to be the big thing for a while), Vestal Goodman’s “Hymns for Life” is definitive.

  16. I’m a big fan of Matthew West’s records. He’s a very good songwriter and Mark Schultz is very good too. His tenor is just incredible, his music is piano based and can get goofy (“Running To Catch myself”). He has a few songs that I’m still shocked that they’re not covered. West has transitioned to a co-writer for country artists like Mallary Hope (her current single).

    As for more country leaning stuff, Derek Webb has some interesting stuff, “She Must And Shalll Go Free” and “Nobody Loves Me” mix country and gospel and bluegrass quite well.

  17. Matt,
    I used to listen to Christian music about ten years ago quite a bit. But I haven’t kept up with it very much at all. I remember Mark Schultz though. Steven Curtis Chapman is really the only person whose albums I still continue to buy as an automatic purchase from that genre these days. I used to love Michael W. Smith, but he’s sold out to the Praise And Worship craze that Christian radio has adopted in the past five or six years. I don’t mind some P&W, but the lyrics and even melodies are more rote than interesting. I’ve actually heard of Derek Webb, as someone very controversial in the Christian world. I should check him out.:)

    These days, I’m just more comfortable hearing country music’s take on religious topics, though, apparently, not the mainstream’s.

  18. I second Luiz’s pick, for the King’s HOW GREAT THOU ART. I would also like to put in a good word for HIS HAND IN MINE. Gospel music (both black and white) was a big part of Elvis’, and rock and roll’s, musical pallet.

    And would you believe that apart from his Lifetime Achievement Award in 1971, the only time Elvis ever won any Grammys was in the Gospel category?!

  19. I always liked “Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goal Posts of Life” by Bobby Bare. :)

    Alan Jackson’s gospel album Precious Memories was pretty good, though I am not a big Christian music fan. His medley of “Washed in the Blood/I’ll Fly Away” was pretty darn good.

  20. Any album by The Happy Goodman Family, J.D. Sumner & The Stamps, The Cathedrals, Blackwood Brothers or any of Portern Wagoner’s gospel albums

  21. Leeann,

    Matthew West’s music is Christian w/o getting ‘praise & worship.’ I used to buy MWS albums w/o even thinking but once he started down that road, I had to ignore it. I am not one who needs to be hammered over the head and heart with that message and thing songs w/themes are better than the P&W songs.

    Another great artist is Steven Delopoulos. He was Burlap To Cashmere and his chrsitian music is folksy. Oddly, I wouldn’t have listened to Matthew West or Steven Delopoulos w/o Universal South records having released their records for a time. Here’s the review of Delopoulous I wrote @ back before I had a ‘real job.’

  22. I’m hoping that Alison Krauss collects the 1 – 2 religious songs that pop up on almost every album she does. I have all the albums already, but I think it would be a good seller and a great album in and of itself.

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