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Chris Wilson: One Hallelujah
by George Graham
(Independent release as broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/13/2019)
Bluegrass is becoming a significant stylistic medium for singer-songwriters these days. Of course, the singer-songwriter format runs far and wide musically from very electric rock, to jazzy, to highly eclectic, to a more traditional folk format. But among acoustic folkies, it seems that more of them are opting for adding traditional bluegrass instrumentation like banjo, fiddle, mandolin and Dobro. This week we have a new recording that nicely fits into that context, it’s by Chris Wilson, and it’s called One Hallelujah.
Chris Wilson has been on the scene for more than a decade, and first came to notoriety after winning first runner-up position for a season on MTV’s talent show “The Cut.” He spent some years in the Los Angeles area before returning to his native Upstate New York area near Rochester a few years ago. He has toured extensively, especially after getting the boost from the TV show appearance, touring that took him to Asia for almost a year and a half. He has sold over 100,000 CDs at performances while on the road. Once he returned to Upstate New York, he rebuilt an old barn in Churchville, NY, and turned it into a performance space, opening it in 2017. It has become a venue for a popular concert series.
His new album One Hallelujah is his sixth release. His previous recordings include two Christmas albums and one of Gospel songs. One Hallelujah is mostly original compositions, but there are a couple of songs by other composers, and he also includes another old Gospel song he reworks. The album was made in Nashville at Ricky Skaggs’ studio, and the group he plays with is small, usually just an acoustic guitar or two, acoustic bass, and some mandolin or Dobro. The players include Paul Harrigill, who co-produced and engineered the album. He is heard on multiple instruments such as mandolin and does backing vocals. Forrest O’Connor is also heard on mandolin and backing vocals, Katie Lee O’Connor does backing vocals and a little fiddle, and shares singing on one tune. The bassist throughout is Mark Fain, who played with Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and Ricky Skaggs. Also appearing is Kelsi Harrigill on backing vocals and Michael Stockton on Dobro. They and Paul Harrigill are members of the bluegrass band Flatt Lonesome.. Wilson himself has a dulcet high tenor that makes just about everything he sings sound appealing. Together, the group’s performances are understated and quite tasteful.
Opening is a song called Take Me Down the Highway which Wilson said was originally written by his mother Mallie Goeller, who was also a songwriter. The song was started by her thirty years ago, and Wilson recently finished it up for this album. The track is typical of this record’s pleasing blend of bluegrass with the folksinger songwriting style. <<>>
One of the non-originals on the album is Won’t Sleep Well whose composer is Jerry Falzone. The rather sad song is given a nicely delicate performance by the group. <<>>
The title track One Hallelujah is a bit more toward country in its approach with its sentimental lyrics. <<>>
Katie Lee O’Connor shares the lead vocal with Wilson on another introspective song called Story. <<>>
On this appealing album, one of the more melodic songs is Sunlight in which the bluegrass instrumentation is a great fit for the song about setting right a relationship. <<>>
A song of praise for an admirable woman in a relationship is called She Will, the kind of song that is reminiscent of some of the better songwriting out of Nashville. <<>>
Also showing some Nashville influence is the track called Poor Boy, another sentimental love song. <<>>
The album ends with an old Gospel song by Thomas Dorsey called Precious Lord. Wilson performs it solo and gives it the flavor of an old rock & roll ballad. <<>>
One Hallelujah the new sixth album by Upstate New York singer-songwriter Chris Wilson is a quite enjoyable recording that brings the signer-songwriter format into a bluegrass context. Wilson is one of those performers who has been successful in a way, selling a lot of CDs at his performances, but because of that modus operandi has tended to stay under the radar on the recording scene, even though he has released five previous albums. The new release, made in Nashville with some first-rate players is an excellent example of tasteful arrangements and understated playing, providing a nice sonic texture to Wilson’s songs and his fetching tenor vocals.
Our grade for audio quality is close to an “A” with a warm, unfettered sound on the acoustic instrumentation, and his vocals are captured in the best light. Dynamic range could have been better, with the volume cranked up more than it needs to be, but the sound remains clean.
Bluegrass has traditionally been a medium for hot picking by instrumentalists, but it has become a nice place for singer-songwriters. Chris Wilson’s new release One Hallelujah is a stellar example.
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