The Hillbilly Thomists, a bluegrass band of Dominican Friars of the Order of Preachers, have released their second full-length album. Titled Living for the Other Side, the work expands on their 2017 self-titled album, more than doubling their catalog.
The sophomore record shows tremendous growth in the group, from their musical talents to their songwriting expertise. Whereas the first album focused on bluegrass standards, Living for the Other Side is brimming with original songs. Rotating their lead vocals each song, the group draws upon each member’s gifts to give every song a unique quality.
5 Great songs in a row
The first five songs on Living for the Other Side were so good we needed to mention them. The album opens with an a cappella tune, “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed,” that has some tight harmonies. It’s followed up by the fast-paced “Our Help Is in the Name of the Lord,” with a train-like rhythm driven by banjo and drums.
In an interview with Bluegrass Today, Hillbilly Thomist Fr. Jonah Teller said of the work:
“It’s not exactly bluegrass all the way through (honestly, we can’t all play fast enough for that!), but we hope you enjoy it.”
We suspect this quote was driven by priestly modesty, because “Our Help Is in the Name of the Lord” is quite fast and sure to get people dancing. The friars may have realized that they had a great song on their hands, because it was chosen for their first video. Featured above, the tune was put to footage of the Dominicans recording and conducting their daily tasks.
The third song may have been our favorite on the whole album. Titled “Bourbon, Bluegrass, and the Bible,” it expertly brings the feel of the bourbon through a partially chromatic banjo riff. The banjo gives the distinct impression of someone teetering as they try to walk, which is supported by the vocals, which are almost sung in character. It’s just a really fun song that will live on in one’s head all day.
The next track, “Give Me a Drink,” is also about thirst, but rather the deep thirst of the spirit for faithful satisfaction. With a wonderful lilting vocal, this song of longing is bound to become a standard in the genre. The original melody is laid back and sounds so natural that we were sure it was a classic.
“Heaven or Tennessee,” their fifth track, has a charming vocal to accompany the little running joke of the tune. Led by a well crafted banjo line once again, they detail the various faithful activities of Tennessee cities. This is the first song on the album that was written in a hymn format, and we would love to hear how it sounds with a choir.
That’s just the first five tracks, but there are nine more incredible tunes waiting on Living for the Other Side. “Lead Me by the Hand” has a sweet melody with wonderful choral work. Their cover of the timeless hymn “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” however, gave us shivers. We especially appreciated “Chasing Money No More,” a title that is so fitting for the members of the mendicant order, who have all taken vows of poverty.
Living for the Other Side is a 56-minute masterpiece of bluegrass music. The band excels at creating relatable music that keeps faith at the forefront of all their material. It deserves to be ranked among the other greats of the genre, like Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and Ricky Scaggs.
Hear the full album on Spotify.
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