Review: The Wilburn Brothers – Songs of Inspiration (Varese Sarabande, 2011)
The Arkansas-born Wilburn Brothers began their career as part of a family act, starring as regulars on the legendary Louisiana Hayride before breaking off as a brotherly duo in 1953. They signed with Decca and had hits throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, starred in a syndicated television show and developed both a publishing house and talent agency; the latter found them discovering both Loretta Lynn and Patty Loveless. Their two albums of inspirational song, 1959’s Livin’ in God’s Country and 1964’s Take Up Thy Cross, are excerpted on this fourteen-track collection, anthologizing nineteenth century southern gospel hymns, Negro spirituals and a few titles, such as Dorsey Dixon’s “Wreck on the Highway,” from the ‘30s and ‘40s. The backings are unadorned arrangements of fiddle, steel, piano, guitar and bass, leaving the focus to fall upon the Wilburn’s brotherly harmonies and individual lead vocals. Highlights include the revival atmosphere of “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” the peaceful surrender of “Angel Band,” the bouncy tempo and intertwined vocals of “I Feel Like Traveling On,” the Louvin-esque “Medals for Mothers” and the dramatic recitation of “Steal Away.” With neither of the original albums having made the leap to digital reissue, it’s a shame this couldn’t have been a complete two-fer, but it’s hard to argue with the fourteen tracks of this budget reissue.