Greetings from Asheville, where good music is always on the turntable. Today’s Classic Album Review looks back at an early LP release from Country Music’s “other” Carter Family, better known as The Chuck Wagon Gang.
Formed in Lubbock, Texas in 1935, the original lineup was a family affair. D. P. “Dad” Carter sang tenor and played mandolin. D. P.’s son Jim Ernest Carter sang bass and played guitar. D. P.’s daughters filled out the quartet. Rose sang soprano, while Anna handled the alto vocals.
They say that there is no harmony like family harmony. The Chuck Wagon Gang is a prime example of that adage. Some of the best harmonies ever heard in Country or Southern Gospel music is found on their recordings. This album, Sacred Songs, is a prime example.
Sacred Songs was the fourth Chuck Wagon Gang album released, entering the market in 1957. It was their first 12” album, as the previous three were in the 10” format. Made up of tracks previously released as singles, all but one track was recorded between 1941 and 1950. “When I Looked Up and He Looked Down” was recorded in 1956.
Most of the songs are very well-known Country and Southern Gospel favorites. In some instances, classics. The Chuck Wagon Gang’s performances are very consistent. Not much variation, but also not falling into the pit of sameness, either.
“Beautiful Life” and “Come Unto Me” are the opening tracks on the album. Both are stellar, perhaps the best on the album (which is saying something). Rose’s soaring soprano is the highlight on both tracks, especially on “Beautiful Life” where she works in conjunction with Anna’s also harmony.
I really like “Echoes From the Burning Bush”, and I like it more each time I listen to it. This track spotlights great vocal work by Anna and her brother, Jim Ernest.
Alfred Brumley’s “He Set Me Free” has a melody that is reminiscent of Hank Williams’ classic “I Saw The Light”. Did this song influence Hank’s writing? That I can’t say, though it has been suggested. Still, an excellent track as good as any on the album.
One of my favorite Chuck Wagon Gang recordings is 1956’s “When I Looked Up and He Looked Down”. A beautiful song and is performed flawlessly by the group. This is the only track on the album that does not feature the original foursome. Jim Ernest had left in 1953 (he would briefly return in 1968), and D. P. had retired in 1955. Rose and Anna Carter were still part of the group, though, and their vocals are the highlight, here.
Is there any greater Gospel song than “I’ll Fly Away”? It stands among the best of all-time. Of the many great versions that have appeared, The Chuck Wagon Gang’s version is still one of, if not the best. In fact, in the minds of many, it is THE version. Released in 1949, it sold over a million copies. Its impact has been so great that the Library of Congress selected their recording for the National Recording Registry preservation in 2017. Another Alfred Brumley composition, it’s said to have been inspired by the classic “The Prisoner’s Song”.
“Jesus Hold My Hand” is another classic found on this album. And, like many of their recordings of classics, their version is among the best. Rose handles the melody on the verses, while Anna takes over on the chorus. Jim Ernest’s bass is also prominent.
“Love Is The Key”, “On and On We Walk Together”, and “On The Jericho Road” conclude the album. Each track is a continuation of what you hear throughout. Bright, what some would call “old-time” singing, beautiful four-part harmonies, and quality songs. And while the argument can be made that many of these songs sound the same or similar (one will note similarities in how they are constructed, and sometimes the melodies, as well), the presentation of the Chuck Wagon Gang gives each song its own feel. They avoid sounding the same. Often, it’s the harmonies that make the difference. They knew how to blend the voices, together. “On The Jericho Road” and “On and On We Walk Together” are prime examples.
If you’re interested in obtaining a copy of this album, it appears that Amazon has it available as an mp3. Most used vinyl I’ve seen is inexpensive, as well. I don’t think this album has ever been reissued on cassette or CD, at least none, new or used, popped up in my research.
Overall, it’s Country-Gospel singing at it’s best, highlighting some of the best recordings The Chuck Wagon Gang made during the 40’s and early 50’s. Psalm 100:1 says, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” It’s hard to imagine noise any more joyful than this.
Saving vinyl, one record at a time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike the Country Musicologist is a lifelong music and radio fanatic, model railroader, lover of vintage agriculture, and big sports fan, including the Colts, Reds, Hurricanes, Pacers, Purdue & Butler Universities. He has collected records since childhood, focusing on classic country and top 40 oldies music. He convinced Vincennes University to give him an Associate’s Degree in broadcasting. He’s worked for several stations in Indiana and North Carolina. Be sure to follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.