A few years ago, I discovered that former Oak Ridge Boy Chris Golden had launched a solo career with his project Sunday Shoes. A country-gospel mix of forgotten tunes and new songs, some contributed by Chris’s songwriting brother Rusty, the album didn’t garner a whole lot of attention. But I kept it in rotation for a long time and still return to my favorite cuts from it. (The best one, “On Jordan’s Banks,” would later be covered by Alabama on their project Angels Among Us.) Most of the songs were new to me, and the arrangements had a spark to them that kept my attention. I was especially impressed by the fact that Chris did his own production and recorded most of his own instrumentals. Not only that, but he recorded these very polished-sounding tracks on the fly, recording in hotel rooms and on stages in between concert appearances. That’s the kind of talent that can’t be taught.
Since then, Chris has released several more projects, and he was kind enough to provide me with a copy of his newest album, Less of Me, for review. While I have found my attention drifting from the gospel music scene in recent months, I knew anything by Chris was worth a listen.
When Steve Green did an interview for his project Woven in Time, he laughed when asked what type of music it contained, replying “It contains all the music I like!” This seems to be Chris’s guiding principle with Less of Me. While the album is light on fresh material, it offers engaging takes on a selection of some of Golden’s personal favorite standards, including several ORB chestnuts. With a performance background comprising gospel, country and rock, Golden brings an eclectic sensibility to his musicianship that injects new life into old songs. “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms” is a particularly entertaining, Hammond-and-electric-guitar-drenched shuffle. Once again, he did his own arranging and most of his own recording for this album, so that gives me an even deeper appreciation for the richness of arrangements like this:The ORB tunes that Golden is blowing the dust off of include Dottie Rambo-penned tunes like “On the Sunny Banks” and “When I Lift Up My Head,” plus the Glen Campbell-penned title track and the feel-good fave “Thank God for Kids.” Golden makes the latter a family affair, allowing his dad to relive the glory days with a solo and bringing in his own kids on backup. His kids also contribute to a wistfully poignant arrangement of “Nothing But the Blood.” I particularly like the way this arrangement begins quietly and proceeds to a stirring climax, falling away to just an acappella breakdown.
Three tunes will be less familiar to listeners. The ballad “Show Me the Way to Go” was recorded on a newer Oak Ridge Boys project. Here, Chris opts to strip back the production to just piano and vocal, to tasteful effect. He also offers a low-key take on Russ Lee’s 2003 hit “Love is a Cross” and revives the Booth Brothers’ reflectively bluesy deep cut “What Salvation’s Done For Me.” I had forgotten about the latter and was reminded how much I liked it. This fun little tune was co-written by Rusty Golden and Dianne Wilkinson (one of several successful collaborations).
Although the song selection for this project isn’t quite as strong or original as some of his other work, it’s a fun walk down musical memory lane for Golden, and curious listeners should seek out his other projects. This versatile artist truly has something for everyone.