Ronnie Milsap – Then Sings My Soul (2009)

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by Nick Deriso 

A remarkably open and spiritual recording, “Then Sings My Soul” reveals the most touching of sentiments for the deeply religious Ronnie Milsap.

Gone is the brassy everyman bravado of familiar country-soul and pop hits like “Stranger in My House,” “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World” or “Daydreams about Night Things.” In its place: a clarity of faith and a contagious, introspective joy.

This two-CD set, issued in March on EMI-CMG, is dotted with familar sacred music like “Amazing Grace,” “I’ll Fly Away” (transformed here by a memorably slowed beat), “How Great Thou Art,” “Rock of Ages” and “Up To Zion,” among others. Milsap learned them all by heart sitting in North Carolina church pews as a young man.

“The old hymns still hold up,” Milsap said in an interview leading up to the release date, “and they still make people feel something.”

Just as compelling, however, are offbeat offerings like “Stand By Me” (given a thrilling calypso treatment) and — I love this one — “People Get Ready.”

Milsap likewise manages successful refashionings of 1970s-era tunes “Let My Love Be Your Pillow” and “What A Difference You’ve Made In My Life,” two of more than a dozen hits from that decade alone. “When Jesus Was All I Had,” this newer composition from the Muscle Shoals-based Donnie Fritts, ends up as a blues number with surprising soul.

The strength of his album, in the end, lies in its big-hearted reverie: Milsap still finds a stirring passion for the musical legacy of his youth — check out the rollicking “Swing Down Chariot,” which arrives like a bright shard of sunlight through a stained-glass window — whether that comes from inside and outside the gospel canon.

In this way, I think Milsap does a commendable job of connecting with listeners across a number of cultural or religious backgrounds. And he still sings with the kind of authority that only comes from real passion.

Milsap, now 66, had nothing left to prove after charting 40 No. 1 hits over the years. Yet he ended up making arguably the most personal recording of his already celebrated career.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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