Sam Butler review…October 16, 2015…




Sam Butler has worked as the guitarist for  acclaimed gospel group The Blind Boys Of Alabama for over twenty years, literally learning at the feet of his father, Samuel Butler, Sr., as a child.  Producer Brian Brinkerhoff wanted to expose Sam to a broader audience by releasing an album of Sam’s guitar stylings on spiritually-themed songs written by predominantly-secular artists.  The splendid result is his latest release for Severn Records, “Raise Your Hands!”  Sam plays twelve cuts from writers such as Johnny Cash, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, and several others.

Joining Sam are lap steel master Roosevelt Collier, bassist Viktor Kraus, and drummer Marco Giovino.  Sam’s guitar tone is pure and strong throughout, breathing life into this gospel-inflected material.  Check out the rolling riff that drives the leadoff cut, Springsteen’s tale of Biblical miracles spelled out in “Heaven’s Wall.”  Brothers Maurice and Robin Gibb wrote the next cut, as Sam exhorts that “you can believe what you wanna–I’m gonna believe in The Lord.”

Several of the cuts have a decidedly-bluesy feel to them.  Roosevelt’s lap steel adds to the vibe of a cool Tom Waits song, where “there ain’t no smokers on this Gospel Train,” and “there’s never a sign that says No Vacancies Any More at God’s Hotel,” from Nick Cave.

Sam’s love for contemporary gospel is on full display thru more traditional cuts such as Curtis Mayfield’s “Wherever You Leadeth, I will follow,” and he closes the set with the quiet solitude of “Sanctuary,” where, no matter what, “Thou art with me.”

We had two favorites, too.  Sam gives a subdued, reverential vocal read of Clapton’s “Presence Of The Lord,” before it gives way to its bombastic, Armageddon-like instrumental climax.  And, another bluesy cut is the story of that last ride, the one taken in that “Long Black Cadillac,” where Sam recounts his life as “God’s messenger,” who “sings to ease pain.”

No amount of accolades can begin to express the contributions Sam Butler has made to the field of gospel music.  If your soul is in need of some musical manna, “Raise Your Hands!” is filling fare, indeed!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

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