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"Over the years, on some of the albums, we'd always include a gospel song," David tells The Boot, sinking into an overstuffed leather sofa in their publicist's Music Row office. "Years ago we did 'Where the Light Comes From' and 'When We All Get to Heaven.' It's always been something we really liked doing, but doing the first one made this one come natural. We thought we had a good group of songs for this. That's always the criteria for doing an album. When we pulled these songs together, we had everything except 'Pray for Me' and 'Hypocrites in Heaven.' We wrote those two during the recording. It turned out to be a good group of songs."
To say it's a 'good group of songs' is an understatement. Gospel music Bellamy Brothers style isn't your average run-of-the-mill Sunday morning church music. The songs are bold, thought-provoking and mix reverence for their faith with honest observations about life and humanity. "God Ain't Finished With Me Yet" is both a confession of human foibles and plea for understanding. "Hypocrites in Heaven" is a no-holds-barred look at the kind of folks who give Christianity a bad name. There's also softer, gentler fare such as the Celtic-flavored "Hymn to Him" and "The Spanish Bible," a picturesque number that sounds as if it could have been a hit for the late Marty Robbins.
"I love spaghetti westerns, so that's my attempt at sort of a gospel spaghetti western," David says with a laugh. "If I had my way, I would have resurrected Marty Robbins and let him put the 'El Paso' spin on it and then maybe got Clint Eastwood to direct it. I like that kind of stuff. We got our neighbor to come over and say the Lord's Prayer in Spanish."
"He always wanted to be a preacher," Howard adds. "Our neighbor is a great guy and we were shocked at the job he did. It's like a professional."
"Suppertime" includes vocals from a very special guest. "We got our sister, Ginger, to sing on 'Suppertime,'" says Howard. "She always sang in church. [If there's] anybody in our family that's close to being a saint, it would be our sister. She's always lived a straight life. It's great to get her on here."
It's not Ginger's first appearance on a Bellamy Brothers album. She sang on their rendition of "When We All Get to Heaven." "It was really fun having her on here," David says. "I love the texture of her voice. It sounds to me like our old church."
In addition to Ginger singing on "Suppertime," the Bellamys have a few other special guests lending their distinctive vocals. Their longtime friend Deborah Allen sings background vocals as does noted session vocalist Vicki Hampton. Irish actor/musician Kieran McHugh plays penny whistle on "Hymn to Him."
"Pray for Me" includes a lively cover of "Spirit in the Sky," a 1969 hit written and recorded by Norman Greenbaum. "In the late '60s and '70s there was actually kind of a Christian rock thing that happened," David says. "The Byrds did 'Jesus Is Just Alright' and stuff like that. Some of those tunes that are really cool. I was talking about 'Spirit in the Sky,' so [guitarist and co-producer] Randy [Hiebert] broke out his guitar and as soon as I heard him get that tone I said, 'We could cut this!' When I heard him crunch that distorted guitar I said, 'Yeah, that will work!'"
Howard and David recorded the album at their ranch near Dade City, Fla. "We did everything at the ranch," says Howard. "With new technology, why leave? We do it all there."
"We've got a few friends and acquaintances around town here like Buddy Hyatt that played keyboards and Paul Franklin who plays steel guitar," says David. "We email stuff up to Buddy and he cuts tracks and emails them back to the ranch. It's like opening Christmas presents. We get all those tracks and it's like, 'Oh wow! Listen to this!' So it's a lot of fun."
That sense of joy permeates the record and though some people have referred to their bold brand of Christian country as outlaw gospel, the Brothers think people will be able to relate. "We tried to just tell it like it is," Howard says, "and I think a lot of people will really relate to it because I think that's where most of the people are."
This week the Bellamys are heading back to Europe where they'll be performing in Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. "We're working on a duets album," says David. "Universal in Switzerland wants us to do an album with some of the biggest Swiss stars and some of the American country legends. It's an interesting project, but it's a lot of work, logistically, trying to [record with] all these people."
They Bellamys have never shied away from hard work or speaking their minds and "Pray for Me" is the latest example of what happens when honesty, passion and creativity collide. "This album is real handmade, everything from the first drum track and guitar lick, all the way to mixing and mastering it," David says.
"These songs are very close to us," Howard adds. "You get emotional doing this kind of music."