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Michael Curtis

Country music has often been associated with bar songs such as Garth Brooks' "Friends In Low Places," womanizing tunes such as George Strait's "All My Exes Live In Texas," or two-stepping tunes like Dwight Yoakam's "Guitars, Cadillacs and Hillbilly Music." From the very beginning however, the roots of country music have also been steeped in gospel music. Early in the twentieth century, A.P. Carter, his wife Sara, his brother Ezra Carter, and Ezra's wife Maybelle Carter (mother of June Carter), established the legacy of the musical Carter family, whose music influenced bluegrass, country, and southern gospel music for generations. It was A.P. Carter who penned the classic gospel tune, "Will The Circle Be Unbroken." 
This connection between country artists and their faith inspired producers Teddy Gentry (of the music group Alabama) and Michael Curtis to come up with the idea for a CD to present country artists singing modern worship songs. The Time Life record label liked their idea, and in the nick of time to add to your Christmas shopping list, Songs 4 Worship Country was released.  The recording features some of country music's biggest names: Rascal Flatts, Ricky Scaggs, The Oak Ridge Boys, Collin Raye, Charlie Daniels, and Diamond Rio. The project also features the beautiful voice of Linda Davis and a spectacular performance by Rebecca Lynn Howard singing "God Is In The House." 
Last month, producer Michael Curtis spoke to me from his studio, Major Mac, in Killen, Alabama, where some of _Songs 4 Worship Country_ was recorded, with the majority being recorded at Sound Shop in Nashville.  "My original vision was to do it (the CD) live at Ryman Auditorium (in Nashville). There is a history between the Ryman, the church and faith. After getting together with Time Life, and sharing the vision, we decided that a studio album might be best," said Curtis. 
Curtis explained, "I thought that it was time to record modern worship, using country artists. Teddy Gentry is a good buddy of mine, and he asked around to see who might be interested in doing the CD. Once we got the artists (in place), we started marrying the songs to them." 
As you scan the impressive roster of artists, one might be tempted to say that Charlie Daniels has come a long way since 1979 when he recorded his smash hit, "The Devil Went Down To Georgia." Daniels teamed up with Curtis and Gentry to record Rich Mullin's "Awesome God," for this CD, and delivers it with the same energy and enthusiasm that country music fans have grown accustomed to hearing over the years. 
Curtis told me, "From the time that we talked about doing this (CD), I could hear Charlie Daniels singing, "Awesome God." He was not that familiar with worship music (in a recording context), but was familiar with classic hymns and traditional gospel music. 
"He (Daniels) asked me, 'Mike, how would you do this?' I said, just like Charlie Daniels would, if you were going into a studio to cut a Charlie Daniel's track. That's how I hear you doing this song.'  He asked me to let him pray about it, then, he got together with his guitar player in a motel room (to work on the song). He sent me a tape, which was pretty well the way that I had heard it in my head," said the producer. 
"When you hear Charlie Daniels do "Awesome God," it is still "Awesome God," but it is also (the way) Charlie Daniels performs," said Curtis, before adding, "You ought to hear that man do "How Great Thou Art," in his concerts. He'll go out there right in front of those southern rock fans, stop in the middle of the show, and do a breathtaking, "How Great Thou Art." 
Although many of the tunes from _Songs 4 Worship Country_ are covers of previously recorded songs, each one holds personal meaning for the artists who perform them on this CD. On this album, we have one of the great singer/songwriters of our day Lenny LeBlanc, whose song "We All Bow Down," appears on the CD, but is sung by Ricky Scaggs, while LeBlanc appears, performing a tune that he did not write, "Here I Am To Worship."   
Curtis explained, "I heard Lenny do "We All Bow Down," at church one day, and I thought that if I were ever to do a project (like this), I would ask Ricky (Scaggs) if he wanted to do that song. At the time (we were recording), Ricky was doing something with Bruce Hornsby, and (at first) it didn't look like he was going to have time. The week that we were getting ready to record, he said that he was interested (in the project). I told him that "We All Bow Down," was the song for him. I sent him the song, and it took him a few days to get back to me. He told me that it took him longer to get back to me because every time that he would hear the song, he would weep. It was so powerful." 
As for LeBlanc's song, "I had always heard "Here We Are To Worship," sung powerfully, and I loved the way that Lenny sang it at church. I told him, that I knew he was used to doing his own songs, but asked if he would mind doing this one for me. He said, not at all. He didn't have an ego, and it turned out great. In fact, I have heard some people say that these are some of the best vocals, that they have heard him do," said Curtis. 
We have one of the most stirring performances on this album courtesy of Rebecca Lynn Howard as she passionately sings, "God Is In The House," a Darlene Zschech/Russell Fragar song that seems tailored for someone with Howard's dynamic talent and voice.  
Rebecca Lynn Howard also sings one of the prettiest songs from this album, "Lord I Am Yours," a song that she co-wrote with Curtis and Gentry. In referring to the song as one of his favorites on this CD, Curtis said, "Teddy came in one day, with this beautiful melody, and I said, 'That ought to make a beautiful love song,' to which he replied, 'I'm going to write it to the Lord."  We wrote it in a couple of hours, and I said thank you Lord." 
As for Howard's efforts Curtis says, "She is one of the most talented people that I have worked with in my life. She has won a couple of Grammies, and she is a godly woman. She had a big hit back in '02 or '03, when she was on MCA Records. This is really a chance for her to shine." 
On some recordings with multiple producers, it is not unusual for each producer to put their own stamp on different songs, however as Teddy Gentry and Michael Curtis collaborated for Songs 4 Worship Country,   they both put their fingerprints on the tracks. For the most part, Gentry deferred to Curtis when it came to the worship aspects of the music, and Curtis likewise deferred to Gentry to ensure that the sound of country music was retained. 
Songs 4 Worship Country will appeal to a wide spectrum of listeners, because it marries, in excellent fashion country music with modern worship songs. If you still have a stocking stuffer to buy or perhaps a small gift for someone special, it is still not too late to put this CD on your shopping list. 

By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved

Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer and the publisher of Riveting Riffs, . His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague. 


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