Meet Charlie Daniels

How Sweet The Sound is what happens when a committed, passionate, flesh-and-blood Christian who's also a premier Southern rocker picks up his guitar and fiddle, gathers his talented long-time band around him, turns up the amplifiers and makes a flat-out joyful noise unto the Lord. It is also proof that there is no substitute for either conviction or talent when it comes to making music, and that when those two commodities meet, the result is as stirring as it is memorable.

"I wanted to do traditional gospel music," says Daniels of his new Sparrow Records project, "but the way my band and I do it rather than what you might expect."

The cornucopia of influences that have helped put the Charlie Daniels Band in the forefront of southern rock for more than three decades--blues, gospel, rock, country, bluegrass--help assure that "the standard thing" is nowhere in sight. The soul-stirring power of that approach is evident from the first track.

"'Amazing Grace' has been done so many times in so many different ways that I really wanted to do something different with it," says Daniels. "It sets the tone for the album in a way that says, 'Hey, this is a bunch of classic/traditional titles, but you're not going to hear them in the way you're used to hearing them. There's going to be a different kind of feeling, of energy, brought to bear on these songs."

There is indeed. "Amazing Grace" is a powerhouse, a rocky, blues-tinged cut complete with soaring gospel choir. The sentiment remains evident throughout the album. "Are You Washed" boasts bluegrass instrumentation and energy, "Peace In The Valley" is an unabashed gospel rave-up, and "Railway to Heaven" is pure chugging Southern rock a la The Charlie Daniels Band. "Abide With Me" finds tightly interwoven acoustic guitars under Daniels' big baritone, and in "In the Garden," you can hear the simple faith of his upbringing as well as the lifetime of experience and reflection that infuse every line. "How Great Thou Art" is simply the man singing what's in his heart. Daniels' affinity for the genre is as old as he is.

"I was raised in a Christian household," he says. "Gospel music was very evident. My first memory of it goes back as far as I can remember things," he says. "I recall going to the front of the church and singing 'Kneel at the Cross' when I was five years old." He revisits the song here, in a soaring version marked with equal doses of reverence and power, as majestic as it is soulful.

Twice before Daniels has recorded albums of original gospel songs for Sparrow. This time, he and his band reached into the great wellspring of Christian sacred music that has for so long poured from church windows into city streets and country lanes. As might be expected given his heritage, the process was highly organic.

"The band and I literally sat down in the studio and looked at a hymn book," he says. "We'd say, 'Hey, let's do "The Old Rugged Cross." How about "Blessed Assurance"? We put the arrangements together right there as a band, bouncing ideas off each other, and I think you can hear that in the tracks. The thing about a band effort as opposed to having someone come in and write out arrangements is that it has a more human sound to it."

Joining his stellar band--Taz DiGregorio on keyboards, Charlie Haywood on bass, Pat McDonald on drums, and guitarists Bruce Brown and Sparky Mataja--are singers Bonnie Bramlett and Carolyn Corlew, and the legendary Bobby Jones Singers.

The record had been completed before the world-changing events of September 11, which added a special relevance and poignancy to the project. "We need to remember from whence comes our help," he says. "We hope this project can help serve as one of those reminders we all need, that God's in his heaven and still in control. Given the circumstances, I think it's a great time for this project to be released."

The music, like the message, is universal, and while the influences are many--black gospel, the hymns of his rural North Carolina upbringing, Delta blues, country, rock and bluegrass--the sound is pure Charlie Daniels.

"It's part of what I am and what I do," he says. "This is music I have always loved. I think there's a little seed in everybody that is seeking God," he adds, "so I guess it's kind of natural for people to be drawn to songs like this. You can get people from all types of music together and they'll know a lot of these songs. They're the ones that stick in the mind through the years."

And now, with How Sweet The Sound, one of music's present-day legends has placed his heartfelt stamp on them.

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