LaTresa & the Signal issue one of the more formidable sets of bluegrass/gospel this season in the brand new album The Blood and the River, a record that borrows heavily from the old school way of making worship music with a uniquely American flavor. The Blood and the River is a very straightforward release, and by this I don’t mean to minimize the handiwork of its players; in fact, quite the contrary. What makes this album such a terrific listen isn’t some element of bombast or artificial thrills – it’s the simple, unfanciful way that it imparts its humble message to us.
The title track, “Would You Walk with Jesus” and “Bright Star” are all about their big string grooves, while more pendulous numbers like “The Mountain” and “My Prayer” employ some tension-inducing arrangements to bring us to the very edge of our seats time and time again. “When I Cross the River” might be the only example of excessive grandiosity, but there’s no denying that it makes the most of its endless harmonies and agile structure. No two tracks are alike here, but they’re all as passionately poetic as one would expect a beautiful southern sermon to be.
In “In the Valley,” “Lazarus” and “When I Cross the River,” the vocals tend to steal away most of the spotlight from the instrumental portion of the music, but I wouldn’t say that LaTresa’s presence dominates over her counterparts in The Blood and the River. Most of the aforementioned material centers on her decadently descriptive verses, though it’s worth pointing out that the string melodies are consistently reflective of the tone of the lyrics they’re soundtracking. This is a really balanced tracklist, and that isn’t something that I’ve been able to say about very many new releases this year, whether they be bluegrass, gospel or anything else.
The Blood and the River has an extraordinary fluidity to the arrangement of its songs, and I think that next to similarly-stylized Nashville fodder making waves on the mainstream side of the dial right now, it’s among the more accessible LPs to debut in 2019. Summer is soon to be in full swing, and while some bands have been content to wallow in the pessimistic nattering of an angst-ridden pop sound, LaTresa & the Signal are taking the polar opposite approach to the season of the sun, and giving gospel fans the right sort of swing to kick this June into gear on a high note.
I hadn’t heard of LaTresa & the Signal prior to being introduced to The Blood and the River for the first time just recently, but I’m very interested in what I’ve heard on this striking new album. Theirs is a brand of bluegrass and gospel music that doesn’t ask a whole lot from us in exchange for a wealth of melodic treasures that are relatable, rhythmic (more often than not) and unfiltered in their admiration for Christ and the word of God. Providence and all-American poetry make The Blood and the River a smash for this band, and I’m eager to hear them follow-up on it in the future.