NASHVILLE (Billboard) - In the past couple of years, there's been a plethora of successful gospel albums by country acts, among them Alan Jackson, Alabama and, most recently, a set from Brenda Lee featuring duets with Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Vince Gill, among others. With the May 8 release of "Jesus Is Coming," the Bellamy Brothers became the latest country act to celebrate their faith in song.
But where the aforementioned releases deliver mostly classic hymns, Howard and David Bellamy take the road less traveled, crafting a collection of new songs that examine faith from their unique perspective.
"Gospel was really the first thing we sang," Howard said, recalling early performances at a nearby church growing up in Florida. "So, this album was a natural and something we've always wanted to do."
The Bellamy Brothers burst onto the musical landscape in 1976 with the pop hit "Let Your Love Flow," still one of the most frequently heard songs from that era. In the '80s, they dominated country radio with such hits as "If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body (Would You Hold It Against Me)," "Redneck Girl," "Sugar Daddy," "You Ain't Just Whistlin' Dixie," "For All the Wrong Reasons" and "Old Hippie." The duo continues to tour extensively in the United States and abroad.
NOT YOUR FATHER'S GOSPEL
"Jesus Is Coming," released on Bellamy Brothers Records/Curb, is not your typical country gospel record. Like previous Bellamy hits, the songs mix humor and heart with keen insights on the cultural climate in America. The hook line in the title cut is "Jesus is coming and boy is he pissed."
"I wanted the line to have an impact, but at the same time I wanted it to be a real gospel song," David said. "Beyond having the novel hook line, it's really country, like an old hymn."
The song, which was first recorded on their 1997 album "Sons of Beaches," takes a look at how mankind has abused the blessings God has offered by destroying the land and mistreating one another.
"It can really strike a nerve," Howard said of the song. "I'm sure there's going to be some controversy about it, but hopefully the broader-minded audience will really see the sincerity of it."
The project also includes a reggae-flavored version of the gospel classic "I'll Fly Away," a gospel mix of "Let Your Love Flow" and such poignant ballads as "Beautiful Night" and "Spiritually Bankrupt." The first single, "Drug Problem," was penned by David and will be promoted to both country and Christian radio stations.
Where do they see the audience for this unconventional gospel record? "Way back in the woods," Howard said with a laugh. "I think the audience for this album is people like us, and I don't know how broad that is or how narrow that is ... When some people think of something spiritual, they put saints on one side and sinners on the other side. That's not the way it is. Most people are both. We have made a lot of our living playing honky-tonks and still do. Some people who go to honky-tonks will be at church on Sunday. That's the way we were raised. We'd frolic with our dad's musician buddies on Saturday night and be in church singing Sunday morning."
The Bellamys admitted that some might see them as "outlaw Christians," but that's OK. "A lot of early Christians were real renegades," David said. "Jesus was the biggest renegade. He was the original nonconformist."