Bradley Walker can remember lying in bed years ago and dreaming of the album he wanted to record someday: a collection of his favorite gospel standards. Now, that dream has seen the light of day with the release of the bluegrass/gospel performer’s new album “Blessed: Hymns and Songs of Faith,” which solidly adheres to his longtime vision, with one notable, up-the-ante exception.
“Blessed” features guest performances by Walker’s musical friends and colleagues, including Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, the Oak Ridge Boys and Ricky Skaggs, The A-list lineup, Walker smilingly assures, was not part of the original plan. “I didn’t think that big,” Walker says with a laugh. “It just kind of evolved into that. As a recording artist, this [album] is something I’ve always wanted to do. These are hymns and songs that I grew up singing.”
Fans will hear Walker’s renditions of gospel favorites, with sure-fire assistance from his guest collaborators. Gill lends his golden tenor to “Drifting Too Far From the Shore,” a classic done by Hank Williams and Emmylou Harris, among others. “I had worked with Vince before,” Walker explains, “but some of the others I hadn’t worked with. Believe it or not, I had never sung with Alison Krauss before this album came about. We knew each other from the bluegrass world, but we had never been able to sing together.” Krauss joins Walker on “Angel Band” for the album.
When discussing the project with the album’s producer Ben Isaacs, Walker maintained that it wouldn’t be an all-star get-together without the Oak Ridge Boys. Walker and the renowned Oaks go back nearly 30 years, when the foursome invited the then-ten-year-old kid to perform onstage with them. At age 11, Walker appeared on TNN’s “Nashville Now” program with the Oaks at the request of the quartet. “That was in 1989,” Walker notes, “and we have remained friends to this day. They are so influential in a lot of ways for me.” For the “Blessed” album, the Oak Ridge Boys sing background vocals on the standard “Family Bible.”
That early performance on “Nashville Now” fueled Walker’s desire to pursue a singing career. Born with muscular dystrophy, Walker refused to let the illness stand in his way. He has often credited his parents for instilling him with the necessary drive and fortitude. While working a separate job, Walker, who has spent his life in a wheelchair, would get in his customized van and make frequent trips to Nashville from his home in Athens, Alabama. He would listen to his favorite acts, attend shows and make the proper business contacts.
His determination paid off early. Walker won the 2006 IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year award on the strength of his debut album, fittingly titled “Highway of Dreams.” He is currently nominated for three 2017 Dove Awards, including Bluegrass/Country/Roots/ Album of the Year for “Call Me Old-Fashioned.”
Now with “Blessed,” Walker continues the grand tradition forged by his musical heroes. “I go back to people like Vern Gosdin and Conway Twitty,” Walker notes, “who made some of the best gospel records I can remember.” Walker adds that recording an album of beloved standards proved a tougher task than originally perceived. “I always thought that a record like ‘Blessed’ would be easier to do than your typical album of all-new material,” he says. “But I think it’s harder. You have to put your own spin on songs that people know. With an album of new songs, they are hearing them for the first time and they don’t have anything to measure it against.”
Walker feels “humbled” to have “Blessed” ready to roll out into stores and online retailers. “I think this album turned out so well,” Walker says with a wide smile. “To think that all these great artists are singing on my record is pretty wild. It’s beyond anything I could ever imagine.”
“Blessed: Hymns and Songs of Faith” is available now. Special editions of the album will include a live concert DVD.