Author: Daniel, Bert

New Testament Bluegrass

A couple of months ago, I wrote a column called Old Testament Bluegrass. At the end of that column I offered some suggested listening for Bluegrass fans who wanted a musical Cliff's Notes style sampling of what the Old Testament is about, just by punching a few buttons on your iPod.

I thought it might be fun to do the same thing for the New Testament, so here's my list: (note bene: if you're not all that interested in religious matters and want to cut to the chase, skip tho tune x below and get the super-abbreviated Cliff's notes version about the meaning of the new testament; The rest of you can read on directly).

1) Away in a Manger
The gospels start with the nativity story and everyone knows this favorite, so it is no stranger to Bluegrass singers. Rhonda Vincent does a good version.

2) Jesus Christ is Born
Written by Ralph Stanley. I guess could do a whole New Testament column with just Ralph Stanley recordings, but I'll try to resist that temptation.

3) Beautiful Star of Bethlehem
Ralph Stanley has recorded this classic numerous times. My favorite is the version with Connie Smith (1997), but the 1964 version with Carter and Ralph is the standard. The gospel of Matthew is the only source for this story (Matthew 2:1-12).

4) Paul and Silas
"Paul and Silas bound in jail, all night long. Saying "Who shall deliver me?" In Acts 16:16-40, Paul and Silas are taken prisoner while on a mission. An earthquake sets them free and the jail-keeper is converted on the spot. (This same story is recounted in the single New Testament verse of Dry Bones, an Old Testament Cliff Notes song I mentioned in the Old Testament Bluegrass column).

5) On the Jericho Road
This song was recorded by Bill Monroe on his album "I'll Meet You In Church Sunday Morning". It tells the story of blind Bartimaeus, who was miraculously healed in Mark 10: 46-52.

6) Walking in Jerusalem, Just Like John
The classic version of this tune is from Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys but it has also been recorded by the Country Gentlemen, New Grass Revival, Doc Watson and Clint Howard and Fred Price. The foursquare New Jerusalem is described in Revelation 21: 2-16. Carter family fans out there might recall the song "Fifty Miles of Elbow Room" :

Twelve hundred miles its length and breadth Four Square City stands
Its gems and walls of Jasper stand, not made by human hands.
One hundred miles its gates are wide at that entrance there
With fifty miles of elbow room on either side to spare

7) Tramp On the Street
(Betty J. Robinson & the Nashville Grass) This is the story of Lazarus found in Luke 16: 19-31. This is a different Lazarus than Lazarus of Bethany, who was raised from the dead after four days ( John, chapter 11) The story tells of a poor man who lay outside the gate of a rich man. He begs for a crumb to eat while the rich man dines every night. This happens to be the only parable in the new testament in which a character is actually named.

8) Sing Songs about Jesus
Ralph Stanley does this song. References are made to the feeding of the multitudes (Matthew chapter 14), raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11) and healing the blind.

9) Lift Him Up, That's All
(Ralph Stanley) This story of the Samaritan woman Jesus meets at Jacob's well is a study in racial tolerance and forgiveness. His wisdom gives this fallen woman metaphorical water which will relieve her thirst forever. (John 4: 5-30)

10) The Story of the Pharisees
The Bass Mountain Boys recorded this song about one of Jesus's nemeses. "Don't condemn your fellow man. Treat him like a brother, Help him all you can."

11) The Lord's Last Supper
Don Reno and Bill Harrell give us this description of the prelude to the crucifixion.

12) He Took Your Place
The Seldom Scene really knew how to do gospel and this is one of their best efforts.

x) The Unknown Tune
One of my favorite New Testament Bluegrass tunes is one I can't remember the name of. It illustrates the lesson Jesus taught when he said "Even as you do to the least of these, you do unto me." (Matthew 25:40). It's a talking song, maybe recorded by Grandpa Jones or somebody like that. I've looked for it in vain many times so, even with the internet, I can't tell you where to find it.

It's a great song, I assure you. Although I haven't heard it for years, I still remember getting sucked in by this story of a man who lives alone but who has had his dinner invitation accepted by none other than Jesus himself. This poor guy struggles to get everything just right for his once in a lifetime dinner guest, only to be bothered by random visitors to his door, like a homeless guy, a lost child and an old lady (I don't remember exactly). Anyway, he's kind to the random visitors, but Jesus never shows up. In his prayers that night, he complains to Jesus about all the trouble he went to for him, only to have him be a no show. Jesus replies that he actually DID show up. HE was the homeless guy. HE was the lost child. HE was the old lady. And he had a great time! What a lesson for all of us. It's how you treat your fellow man that matters. I guess that sums up the New Testament in a nutshell.

Posted:  10/30/2010

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