That’s Been Fifty Years Ago… 50 Years of the CDB Part 30: How Sweet the Sound
In 2002, the CDB would release their first of three albums, one secular, one Christmas and one Gospel.
‘How Sweet the Sound’ marked a one-off return to Sparrow Records, who released dad’s Christian albums, ‘The Door’ and ‘Steel Witness.’
The plan was to record a double album of hymns, which I believe Sparrow intended to market with direct-response advertising commercials. The kind where they tease small snippets of the songs on the album and then give you the phone number to order… “operators are standing by!”
Dad and Patrick Kelly produced the collection, and even though he had left the band, Chris Wormer provided string arrangements on “How Great Thou Art” and “The Old Rugged Cross.”
On to the music.
The album kicks off with an old standard, “Amazing Grace,” however, dad puts a funkier black Gospel groove to it than the traditional arrangements and is one of the many songs to feature the incredible Bobby Jones Choir. Bobby Jones and the CDB go way back as his group New Life performed at many of the original Volunteer Jams.
“Precious Lord, Take My Hand” has some really interesting fiddle work, and it also has a bit of the same influence as “Amazing Grace” does. It’s got a pretty bouncy groove to it.
The beautiful “In the Garden” is a song that I know was something that dad knew well from growing up in churches in North Carolina and Georgia, as it’s one of the most recognizable hymns of all time with the promise that He is always walking with us.
“Softly and Tenderly” is another one of those hymns that are Gospel standards. This arrangement is mostly acoustic with guitar and mandolin, and beautiful background vocals by the Bobby Jones Choir.
Dad also performed this at George Jones’ memorial service in 2013 at The Grand Ole Opry House, and it was a stirring performance of a beloved hymn.
“Abide With Me” has a more acoustic flavor, and the sparser arrangement moves dad’s vocals to the forefront more than usual, and dad is up to the task.
The song is a plea for God to stay with him always, something that we should always desire.
The Hank Williams penned “I Saw the Light” is up next, with an intro that sounds borrowed from the CDB’s “Midnight Train” song, but it’s a lively and powerful message about being a sinner wandering aimlessly until he literally sees “the Light,” as in the light of Jesus, and the joy that letting Him into his heart brings.
The song wasn’t a huge hit for Hank initially, but became one of his best-known and best-loved songs.
Dad’s take on “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” has a blues/gospel hybrid feel. It starts off more conventional and then it goes full-honkin’ mode which would feel at home at any of the most Spirit-filled black churches around. It’s a bouncy and uplifting rendition of a beloved song.
First dad sings about walking with the Lord, next he sings about talking with Him. “Just A Little Talk With Jesus” which – much like “Abide With Me” is about prayer and developing a relationship with our Lord and Savior, to trust Him and tell Him our troubles. It’s just about spending time with Him, and that will bring you closer to Him.
“Swing Down Chariot” is an old spiritual song that describes Ezekiel’s vision of an angel and a heavenly chariot. Dad’s version is largely based on Elvis Presley’s popular version of the song, which isn’t surprising since Elvis was such an influence on dad when he was starting out, and dad was always a huge fan.
It wouldn’t be the only time that dad would be influenced by “The King” of Rock 'N Roll when singing about the One True King on this album.
“Nothing But The Blood” is another Gospel standard sung for almost a hundred and fifty years. The message is simple, there’s nothing that can save us but the blood of Jesus which was willingly shed for us. We can’t save ourselves, only Jesus can do that. The Bobby Jones Choir provides the background vocals which jump out and grab you.
“I’ll Fly Away” is a song that – along with “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” – was a staple of many Volunteer Jams and CDB songs over the years.
Dad would even later record an instrumental of the song for a bluegrass Gospel album that would earn him another Grammy nomination, but this version has lyrics, lyrics which really resonate now… one glad morning in July of 2020, dad flew away.
Hallelujah, by and by.
Disc 1 ends with dad’s all-time favorite hymn, and one I can’t get through without tears anymore, “How Great Thou Art.” I heard a guitar vocal of this at church during baptisms one Saturday night, and got in the car and remembered dad’s version and played it from my phone while driving home. It wasn’t long before I was bawling. This continued at the last Volunteer Jam when Michael W. Smith and Cece Winans both sang it together, and I was a weepy mess yet again.
Like “Swing Down Sweet Chariot,’ dad’s arrangement was based on Elvis’ version of the song, with three verses then the choruses in one powerful crescendo.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to listen to dad’s version again without tearing up. I didn’t listen to it while writing this analysis. It would have delayed finishing it by quite a bit.
Side two begins with a song that was on a previous Sparrow album, 1996’s ‘Steel Witness.’ “Somebody Was Prayin’ for Me” is a jumpin’ Gospel number with background vocals by the legendary Fairfield Four about how a man is lost, feeling alone and a slave to sin, only to be saved by the prayers of a loved one and then sees the Light.
“They Tell Me of a Home” is sometimes known as “The Uncloudy Day,” but it’s about the home that awaits us where there are no cloudy days, no sorrow and no tears. Amen.
Dad’s version of “Are You Washed in The Blood” has a distinctive bluegrass feel to it, and asks a very simple question that needs to be answered, have you opened your heart to Jesus to accept His Grace and be made white as snow?
I love dad’s version of “The Old Rugged Cross.” It has beautiful strings, a lot of mandolin and a statement of faith, promising to cherish and cling to the old rugged Cross, although it will be exchanged for a crown one day when our trophies are laid down.
“What A Friend We Have in Jesus” is one of the best-loved hymns of all time, going back 150 years.
This arrangement is probably one of the more traditional arrangements on the whole collection, but it’s a simple premise, Jesus, is the best friend we could ever have. He bears our sins and griefs. We don’t have to carry all of our pain because our Best Friend will carry them for us, if we just allow Him to.
The tradition continues with “Blessed Assurance,” another very old and beloved hymn that echoes with the memorable chorus, “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.
It’s a perennial Church standard.
Dad’s take on “Peace in the Valley” is a bit more akin to some of the bouncier arrangements from the first disc rather than the slower more traditional takes of the last two songs, and a lot of guitar ringing, as well as the Bobby Jones Choir turbocharging the song, and dad singing his heart out.
“In the Sweet By and By” starts off with some very cool guitar work, and a mid-tempo, shedding the more traditional arrangements.
It’s about a land waiting for us where we shall meet one day “On that beautiful shore, In the sweet by and by.”
“I am Thine O Lord” isn’t one I was as familiar with, but the arrangement feels like CDB playing in an old country church, and dad supplies some very nice fiddle licks.
It’s a profession of faith and a cry of longing to be near our Lord.
“Come Unto Me” is another bluegrass-style entry in this Gospel collection. The hymn itself is taken directly from Matthew 11:28-30, “come to me all who are weary.”
It’s a great reminder we are feeling overwhelmed that we just need to give our cares to the One who died for our sins, and redeems us.
“Kneel at the Cross” is classic, old-fashioned, big choir, rolling piano, roaring organ Gospel music at its finest.
It’s a simple invitation, Jesus is waiting for you to come to Him at the cross to lay down your burdens, and there is plenty of room for all. Just lay it all down, give up the idols you are holding on to, and just go to Him.
He will meet us at the cross.
“Life’s Railway to Heaven” describes life as a train ride through the mountains. The dangers are plentiful; curves, hills valleys, and we need to be careful, but with Jesus as the train’s engineer, He will guide us through it all, all the way to our final destination.
‘How Sweet The Sound’ ends with a bang. “There is Power in the Blood,” is a song that dad sang in church growing up… actually not in church. It’s a funny story.
In dad’s book, “Never Look at the Empty Seats,” dad told about when he lived across from a church, and he was home by himself while my grandparents were attending church one Sunday morning. The church was close enough that he could hear the singing and joined in at the top of his lungs. But he sang so loud that the congregation could hear him from across the street!
My grandfather had to go over and tell him to keep it down because everyone was looking around to see who was singing so loudly and he wasn’t even in the building.
I would venture to say that this version rocks a little harder than the one that dad was inspired to sing with many years ago. The guitars are screaming, and the choir is cooking, and it’s a great way to end the collection.
It’s a wonderful spirit-filled album, and one that I know was very personal for dad.
It was a modest success, it didn’t have quite the appeal that “The Door” and “Steel Witness” did, but songs from all three albums were released years later as ‘The Ultimate Collection,” so the music continued to resonate.
Fittingly, dad dedicates this album to our Lord.
“I dedicate this imperfect work to Him who alone is perfect, creator of everything which exists, Father of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, author of all truth, all goodness, all salvation, whose mercy endures to all generations, in the majesty, the honor and glory of almighty God.” – Charlie Daniels
Doing an album of hymns meant a lot to him. He was a humble man of God, to the very end.
Next time, from Gospel music to Redneck fiddle!
Check out 'How Sweet the Sound: 25 Favorite Hymns and Gospel Greats' wherever you stream music.
What do you think?
Let’s all make the day count!
Pray for our troops, our police, the Peace of Jerusalem and our nation.
God Bless America!
— Charlie Daniels, Jr.
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