An Alabamian who has long resided in Nashville, LeTresa Smith has been around country and bluegrass music professionally for a couple decades, and her album of several years ago—Love, Babies, Jesus, and Sweet Potato Pie…—was a Fervor Coulee favourite. Eight years later, LaTresa & the Signal return with another strong country offering, this with a bluegrass gospel bent.
“The Valley with My Lord” is stunning performance. Smith’s sultry, southern vocal approach sets this number apart, and Markus Stadler’s sparse banjo provides further individuality to the song. With the group producing themselves—Smith, Stadler, and bassist Randy Smith are credited—this desire to set themselves apart from the (sometimes) sickeningly-glossy bluegrass gospel field—must be deliberate, and is much appreciated.
Kyle Wood is The Signal’s mandolinist, and his contributions to songs including “When I Cross the River” complement the album’s many guest artists including Rob Ickes, who lends his distinctive approach to this song—and a pair of others—and Tim O’Brien who drops in fiddle accents. O’Brien makes two more appearances, including vocally on “In The Valley,” a number that also features Charlie Cushman on 5-string.
Dale Ann Bradley and Steve Gulley—bluegrass music’s most assured harmony pairing, in my opinion—join Smith on “Now I Am Redeemed” with Christian Davis providing the vocal quartet’s deep end. This a cappella number is one that causes the listener to pause and lean toward the speakers: beautiful.
Further augmenting the twelve-track album, comprised of LaTresa Smith originals (including the Wood co-write, “In The Valley”) are familiar names including Ronnie McCoury (mandolin on the title track, a song deserving of considerable bluegrass airplay), Roland White (sparkling mandolin on “Where Angels Abide”), and Pat Flynn (guitar on “Bright Star,” which also features bluegrass hit-maker Billy Droze sharing the vocal lead with Smith).
LaTresa & the Signal’s The Blood and The River is about as smooth as I get when it comes to recommending bluegrass albums with strong country overtones. The singing is top-notch, the instrumentation is stellar, and the songwriting more than impressive, weaving elements of Biblical literature with contemporary challenges and opportunities. A very impressive recording, well-worth our time.
Review based on provided CD.