Red Star Express Music Review -
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Gospel Express CD Music Review


That these worshipful hymns be as much an inspiration to all who listen as they are to those of us who play and sing. May His Peace be with you always!



Mike Mathes - Guitar vocals
Steve Nothem - Bass fiddle, Guitar
Sally Sikora - vocals
Galen "Tex" Hunt - Banjo, Dojo, vocals
Eldon Klein - Guitar, Vocals
Sue Woodward - Fiddle, Vocals
Chris Jost - Guitar
Gerry Jost - Mandolin, harp, Vocals

DEDICATION: We dedicate this Gospel Express recording to the Glory of God.

Themes of these Gospel hymns, anthems and ballads.

Accepting Lord Jesus as Lord and Savior, our sin sacrifice and belonging to Him.


Depending on and trusting in the Lord Jesus to see us through life's storms / to mold us and make us more like Himself - (These songs talk about different, faithful aspects of the Lord)


Believers looking forward to going home to a place of peace and love, Heaven, to have eternal life with Jesus Christ.(God's promises to us, as His children) .


Music Review of Gospel Express

What a wonderful collection of folk and classic Southern Bluegrass Gospel ballads and 2 well-known hymns!  All the ballads, anthems and hymns are played with poignancy, gusto and spirit, in the intricate Bluegrass style that Red Star Express has surely mastered in their own renditions of these uplifting songs. These powerful Gospel tunes were originally written and performed by such talented songwriters/artists Gilmore & Bradbury, John Newton, Carter Family, Fanny Crosby, Bradbury and Haskall, Hoffman, Louvin Brothers, Hank Williams, Albert Brumley, and Ada Habershon & Entwisle/Carter Family. Other songs' on the album come from unknown songwriters who lived in Appalachia, the birthplace of American Bluegrass music.

Singing and playing from the heart, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, the members of Red Star Express so fully "express", on several levels, the hope, love and peace of the Lord Jesus in volumes to the listener through their music.  During my recovery from knee replacement surgery, their Gospel Express CD was one of my favorite albums that gave me not only a variety of interesting song compositions, musical bluegrass style interludes between the verses, and soothing inspiring harmonies and vocals to listen to and absorb, taking my mind off the pain, but also bolstered my faith and love for the Lord, filling me with God's peace and encouragement, which in turn lessened the stress and anxiety of the whole experience as I depended on the Lord to get me through the challenging hoops of recovery.

It's hard to know where to start, as this album has everything that I love about Christian Bluegrass: Meaningful lyrical messages, presented so well by strong, dynamic, spirited, inspired vocals, and clear, supportive harmonies, terrific arrangements of inspiring, hopeful Gospel with a variety of moods & tempos, and a well executed, dynamic presentation of each song's musical composition!

Lets take a look at the marvelous, Bluegrass Gospel sound generated by a talented group of instrumentalists, who are filled with the Spirit, and work as a team to the glory of the Lord.  Red Star Express' own arrangements, done in their own Bluegrass Gospel style, truly capture the energy, emotion, hope and spirit of each of the songs presented so well on this album.

Christian Country and Bluegrass Gospel songs have traditionally been propelled and supported by guitar or acoustic ensembles, with other instruments like fiddles and harmonicas added for spice, though the main stars that shine in Gospel songs are the lyrical messages and the vocals that are the featured musical elements in this genre. While this is true in this collection of songs, when the vocals are presenting the lyrical messages, the instrumental talents and gifts of the members of Red Star Express are also showcased in the song introductions, the interludes between verses, and some of the tags of the songs, as well the inter-connected, solid musical accompaniment that supports the vocals.

It certainly takes teamwork as all the musical accompaniment must flow as one.  Yet, individual performances are delicately distinct in either the back-up counter melodies, rhythm stabilizers or as lead melody voices in the intros, or interludes between verses. Whether one hears a fast-paced, robust ballad or anthem with a cookin' tempo, or a slower, beautiful arrangement, with simpler accompaniment of a classic hymn, the sound is always inspiring and brightens the spirit of the listener.

The playing of 8th and 16th note counter melodies; sometimes with doted rhythms at a fast, lively pace sounds like it is so easy, though this bell player with less talent knows better.  The Bluegrass sound has always fascinated me, since I was a child in the pre-dawn era. On the faster-paced-spirited songs, it is amazing to me on how 7 people can come together and create such lively inner voices on their instrument of expertise, precise music that complements not only each other, but supports and provides the steady tempo for the main melody, carried by either a lead instrument in the interludes, or the vocalist/vocalists who are carrying the melody and singing the verses.


HE LEADETH ME (Based on Psalm 23:1-3) (Words by Joseph Gilmore, music by William Bradbury, 1864.)

RED STAR EXPRESS presents this long popular hymn as a song of hope and thankfulness, which surely cheers up the listener, who is facing a challenge of life.

Begins reverently with an a capella rendition of the refrain;Very legato and beautiful 4 PART Gospel.  Banjo jumps in with a perky introduction, beginning the spirit of joy and thankfulness that flows with enthusiasm throughout the accompaniment and vocals. Banjo, mandolin and guitar offer spirited accompaniment, as background musical support for the joyful female vocals and the equally enthusiastic back up vocals in the refrain.  Banjo and mandolin take turns in the interlude between 2nd and 3rd verses.  Ends with an a capella rendition of the chorus.

PASS ME NOT GENTLE SAVIOR (By Fanny Crosby).  Prayer ballad of a person asking for help from Jesus in overcoming unbelief.

Begins slowly with the intro by an expressive violin in the first few measures, to introduce this beautiful prayer of petition. Banjo, harmonica and other voices join in at moderate lively pace, setting the tempo and melody  for the smooth lead vocals, and trio voices backup chorus. First interlude features the mandolin and harmonica  Second Interlude a lively violin  and mandolin play a verse of the melody  between 2nd and 3rd verse. Last interlude features the banjo.

WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN- (Originally written by Ada Habershon, song was rearranged by A.P. Carter.)

What a great song of hope about seeing loved ones eventually when we go home to be with the Lord. Ballad tells the story of a family who bury their mother who died, and how they cheered themselves up, holding onto the promise of eternal life. As believers in Christ, they all eventually will wind up in heaven, and sing together again the Gospel songs that Mother Mabel (Carter's relative) taught them.

This wildly joyous composition begins with a lively banjo and mandolin duet melody intro, which takes off in energy and joy in both the musical accompaniment, and the vocals, as each member of RED STAR EXPRESS sings a verse, telling the story of sorrow and how the grieving family sang to be strong, remembering the promises of God.

Each instrument takes turns playing a solo reprise of the melody in the interludes between the many verses.  The bass fiddle was very impressive, as I didn't know that this instrument could play that many notes so fast!!!  RED STAR EXPRESS plays this song as their ending number at all their concerts, to remind all that they are all part of the Lord's circle.

Though I fell in love with all of the songs presented on this album;(hook, line and sinker), finding each to be unique and quite entertaining and moving, the four, fast-paced songs that cheered me up the most were, SOMEBODY TOUCHED ME, ARE YOU WASHED IN THE BLOOD, KEEP ON THE SUNNY SIDE and I'LL FLY AWAY. These are great examples of comforting and uplifting Bluegrass, as they are full of jubilation, spirit and hope, musically precise in their presentation, and have lively Bluegrass counter-melodies, strongly heard in the interludes between verses, supporting the solo instruments.  Each of these instruments take a turn, expressing the melody introduction or melody in the  intro and musical interlude between verses.

SOMEBODY TOUCHED ME - (Traditional Bluegrass Gospel). The words remind us that at many turns in life we are touched by the hand of the Lord. Lord is with us through all our challenges.  We love and shine because God first loved us.  We can look forward to going home to heaven.

This spirited, movin' version gets the ball rolling, with a peppy banjo intro, soon to be joined by the rousing ensemble of mandolin, guitar, violin, bass guitar. Mandolin and violin each take a turn, leading the melody line in the interlude.  After covering the two verses of this song, the composition seamlessly segues into the first verse of the song, "THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE." Banjo takes a turn during the following interlude. Again they seamlessly segue into the first verse of DO LORD.  Then, there is another musical romp through the chorus to a grand finish!

I'LL FLY AWAY (1931-Alfred Brumley) - Reminder that our earthly death leads to "everlasting glory" with Christ. (John 3:16)

Song begins with a burst of energy, starting with the violin! Violin, mandolin, banjo all entertain the listener, each taking a turn with the melody in the interludes. Guitar and bass are equally busy providing strong support!  Smoke must come out of the ensemble when this song is played. 8th and 16th notes are flying in tempo, and all the various instrumental voices come together in a magnificent way, providing a spirited accompaniment for equally spirited vocals.

ARE YOU WASHED IN THE BLOOD -({Revelations 7:14}, 1878-Elisha A Hoffman) Our sins are forgiven through the sacrifice of God's only Son.

This long-time, Bluegrass favorite features spirited and joyful accompaniment, with an energetic ensemble, especially the inspiring banjo and mandolin that contribute a smokin' performance in the interlude! Accompaniment truly expresses the joy and thankfulness of being saved from sin through Jesus Christ. The vocals match the energy of the accompaniment - WOW, what a song of inspiration!!

KEEP ON THE SUNNY SIDE -(1899- Ada Blenkhornm, music by J. Howard Entwisle, later made popular by A.P.Carter and Family, becoming their signature song.)

Reminds us not only to keep a positive attitude and outlook; (keep things on the bright side), but to trust in Jesus our Savior always, "For He keeps us all in His care, not matter the hardships or trials we face" in this world.

Song begins with a ball of energetic sound, thanks to the talents of very busy banjo and mandolin players, and equally inspired guitar and bass, that together get this performance off to a roaring start!!  Energy never slows down, providing a spirited, heart-lifting accompaniment. Also enjoyed the energetic harmonica and violin duet in the first interlude, and their contributions in the 2nd verse.

The more poignant, beautiful songs that require a quieter ensemble are equally effective and moving.(AMAZING GRACE * ANGEL BAND * BE THOU MY VISION * DRIFTING TOO FAR FROM THE SHORE)

DRIFTING TOO FAR FROM THE SHORE (1924-Written by Charles Earnest Moody for his group, Georgia Yellow Hammers.)

Reminds the listener that through Jesus we can find shelter from all of life's storms and dangers.

Has a simple yet effective accompaniment in 3/4 meter, as it is performed as a Southern Gospel, 4 part harmony altar call hymn; strong, dynamic in sound and moving. Intro is carried by guitar and mandolin, setting the slower pace and intro of the melody.  Song accompaniment is basically the guitar, that sets the chordal support and rhythm.  The Lead vocals, the supportive harmony from the other 3 singers, and the Gospel message are the main emphasis throughout the song, written for outreach efforts to unbelievers and seekers on the wrong path.

AMAZING GRACE (1779-John Newton) - Sums up doctrine of Divine grace.

This 3/4 metered version of a classic hymn for the ages, begins with a lovely, poignant violin solo, that plays through a whole verse, setting the tone and reverent aura of this hymn.  Guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass join in an ensemble effort for a second verse of the melody, setting the stage for the wonderful female duet, who sing the first and fourth verses. Musical accompaniment is flowing and very pretty, giving a beautiful rendition accompaniment, soothing to the mind and spirit.

First interlude between verses one hears the mandolin as soloist, followed by the guitar, who plays the third verse.  Vocalists sing the fourth verse, ensemble plays, and then the violin ends the song with a final run through of the melody.

ANGEL BAND and BE THOU MY VISION are my two favorites out of this group of songs.

ANGEL BAND-(Luke 16:22), 1860-William Bradbury & Jefferson Hascall.

This ballad, about a dying woman's anticipation about going home to be with the Lord, flows peacefully along in 3/4 meter, with lovely mandolin, violin, guitar and bass fiddle the main ensemble that so nicely provides musical accompaniment for the heart-felt vocal presentation of the lyrics, as they capture the peace and joy of crossing over to heaven via angels. Love the mandolin and guitar introduction, and the little interludes in between verses.  Mandolin is especially touching, delicate and enjoyable as the intro to the verses.

BE THOU MY VISION -The music in this hymn is the ancient Irish folk tune, Slane, a ballad that told of the vialant fight & victory by Saint Patrick over the pagans.  The text was written in the 6th century by Dallan Forgaill, and long had been an established reading in Irish monasteries. Around the turn of the century, Mary Byrne translated it into English. In 1912, Miss Eleanor Henrietta Hull "versified" the text, creating verses that are most commonly sung today.  In 1927, Welch composer, David Evans, put Hull's verses with the Slane folk tune, thus creating the powerful prayer hymn, BE THOU MY VISION.

Begins reverently, with a beautiful melody intro done by a delicate duet between guitar and mandolin, with banjo in background, setting the 3/4 meter tempo of the song. Lovely violin and flute duet in the interlude between the first and second verse, reprising the melody, is soothing to the spirit. What lovely accompaniment for the powerful, poignant vocal duet.

Let's talk about the fabulous vocals heard in this collection of songs!!!

Not only are the song compositions a delight to listen to and absorb, but also all the vocal presentations of the themes of this Gospel album are very entertaining and very effective in revitalizing the stressed and hurting. The inspiring lead vocals and harmonies of the various choruses/refrains are also most enjoyable, most uplifting and do a great job presenting the spirit and meaning of the wonderful Gospel messages, written so long ago that uplifted and encouraged people facing the problems and tragedies of life.

The members of RED STAR EXPRESS present the vocals, using traditional harmony styles found in the Appalachian mountains and throughout the South, where most of these songs originated. All have strong breath control, great diction, are always on key, and have effective musical instincts, have understanding on how to use dynamics and other tools of musicians. Whether singing 4 part, 3 part or 2 part Gospel harmony, mountain-style duet/ group harmony, solo and backup voices, or a capella, the emotion and spirit of each song are perfectly presented in a dynamic fashion, with the result of the meanings of the Gospel themes being brought to life, front and center.  One can tell that they really believe the messages they are presenting, as they sing from their hearts, full of the love of the Lord.  It is no wonder that their vocals are soothing, uplifting and encouraging. 



The lead tenor, who sang the main vocals in ARE YOU WASHED IN THE BLOOD, SOMEBODY TOUCHED ME * DRIFTING TOO FAR FROM THE SHORE * PASS ME NOT GENTLE SAVIOR and KEEP ON THE SUNNY SIDE has a soothing, but bright tone to his voice, yet is energetic and full of the Spirit, that sends this reviewer to the moon and back!

The lead female vocalist, Sue Woodward, in the Gospel ballad, ANGEL BAND, really brings life to the lyrics, and expresses the hope and jubilation of a woman who is dying, yet so looking forward to going home to be with the Lord Jesus, via the angels. Back-up harmonies in the chorus refrain are also just right in support and  dynamics.

The lead male vocalist in I SAW THE LIGHT, is a spirited rendition of this personal testimony of Hank Williams, who wrote this ballad, a testimony to the house call he received from Jesus, saving him from his downward spiral with alcohol.

I can never say too much about the fabulous, traditional group harmonies heard in many of the refrains of these songs, especially STAY ON THE SUNNY SIDE, DRIFTING TOO FAR FROM THE SHORE, LET US TRAVEL, TRAVEL ON, ARE YOU WASHED IN THE BLOOD, and ANGEL BAND.  It is easy to get caught up, and sing along with them, picking a favorite harmony part.

Loved the two part duets in the songs, AMAZING GRACE, and BE THOU MY VISION.

AMAZING GRACE features the two female vocalists of this group, Sue Woodward and Sally Sikora, singing a poignant duet, with strong mountain harmony that is beautiful.  I usually wind up singing along with them, as I love both the harmony and the message of this hymn.

BE THOU MY VISION features a dynamic, beautiful duet of Sally Sikora, and the lead tenor, creating a truly moving and lovely rendition of this Celtic prayer hymn that is sung in most Christian denominations.

Of course, these vocalists don't need musical accompaniment to stay on key!  A bright example of their abilities is my personal favorite song of this genre, DOWN TO THE RIVER TO PRAY, sung completely a capella, giving a solemn, expressive, spiritual rendition of this classic Appalachian Gospel song.

Other songs on this album that have a capella singing in certain parts of the composition are HE LEADETH ME, ANGEL BAND, DRIFTING TOO FAR FROM THE SHORE, and BE THOU MY VISION. All are well done and inspiring!!

Entertaining, precise, expressive, dynamic Bluegrass accompaniment, inspiring  presentation of spirit-filled vocals, with beautiful, harmonies, all come together to be the perfect musical vehicles for the Gospel messages of hope, love, trust and faithfulness, pointing to Jesus as Lord and Savior in this collection of ballads, anthems and hymns. This collection of songs, GOSPEL EXPRESS, is a MUST HAVE for your Christian music collection, a musical tool that can bolster the listener's spirit and be a source of great encouragement, when life gets rough. It has been a huge blessing for me, as these songs offer so much hope, encouragement, the perfect cure for anxiety, troubling issues, bumps in the road, death of loved ones and the sorrow that follows loss.


Reviewed by Julie Carr - For

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