Exclusive Premiere From The Latest Country Faith Album Sounds Like Nashville
For Dale Ann Bradley, there’s a connection between mind, body and spirit in “Working on a Building.” The International Bluegrass Music Association winner teamed up with GMA Dove Award-winning group, The Isaacs, for a new rendition of the spiritual song, premiering exclusively with Sounds Like Nashville. The song appears on Country Faith Bluegrass, the 10th release in the Country Faith series that also features Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, the late Charlie Daniels and more covering gospel standards.
“Working on a Building” originated as an African American spiritual, later rising to prominence in the country music and bluegrass genres when The Carter Family recorded their rendition in 1934. It later became a signature song for B.B. King, with other acts ranging from Elvis Presley to John Fogerty adding their mark to it. “If there’s such a thing as a Christian folk song, ‘Working On a Building’ definitely would carry that title because I don’t remember it not being around. It’s passed through so many cultures, in the blues era, in the Delta,” Bradley explains to Sounds Like Nashville in a phone interview. “This song has been tried in the fire, and it’s proven to be a true song.”
Throughout its expansive history, “Working on a Building” has experienced many artistic evolutions. The Carter Family added a gentle acoustic touch alongside their rugged harmonies, while King took on a revivalist approach with spirited claps that elevated the passion in the legend’s voice. Meanwhile, Bradley and producer Jerry Salley intentionally lean into the the singer’s Kentucky roots, creating a swampy rendition that’s undeniably bluegrass, as prominent banjo and fiddle accent Bradley’s earthy voice that captures the raw nature of the song. “He wanted to do something familiar, but not the way it’s always been done,” Bradley describes of Salley’s approach. “‘Working on a Building’ in the traditional way that so many others have recorded it and performed it, Jerry put this twist on it, which made it something I wanted to do even more because it made it Appalachian in one way and then swampy in another way. The way that I felt like he was going to produce the song was definitely something I wanted to have a chance to put the lead vocal on.”
What makes the song particularly dynamic is the presence of The Isaacs, the southern gospel vocal group of family members Sonya, Ben, Becky and Lily Isaacs. Throughout the track, the Gospel Music Hall of Fame members send chills up one’s spine with their haunting harmonies as they proclaim, “I’m a working on building / For my lord for my lord / It’s a holy ghost building / For my lord for my lord.” Bradley has long “admired” The Isaacs and was grateful to have the chance to collaborate with them. “They added another element. Jerry said ‘let the spirit lead’ and I felt like I was in an old camp house meeting when I was singing the lead, and they came right on in and put the holy ghost on it,” Bradley remarks with a laugh. “There’s no better. There’s so much emotion, and the thing about it is they give you that closeness in their family harmony, but their individual voices are distinctive and all the voices are as strong as anything I’ve ever heard. Then you put them together and they got that inside knowledge what the other person’s going to do. It’s the most beautiful thing you can hear on earth, I think.” “We’ve always thought Dale Ann Bradley was one of the most incredible singers we’ve ever heard! To sing with her was such an honor. She sounded like a third sister!” Sonya Isaacs Yeary raves in an email to Sounds Like Nashville.
The meaning of the song is as deep as its roots. From Bradley’s perspective, the building symbolizes life, using one’s body and surrounding resources to build a life that is pure. “‘Working On a Building’ is a song of strength. You can look at your life as being the building, your body being part of that life, and you keep working to be as good as you possibly can. If you’re striving for the good, especially when the world around you is not necessarily into building good things, you can think of that song. The life is what we’re building, and the body is the tools, or how we’ll live that life forever how long that we have and you work on that. There’s a lot of things that you have to sometimes walk away from that is a detriment to you, but you’re working on your building,” she explains.“I think what makes it special is how long it’s been around and how many generations it’s went through that have been spiritually charged and found the strength to go on through that song, knowing fully well that there was a higher power, and you want to pay worship and homage and love to what you feel is a good life.” “‘Working on a Building’ is a true classic song in bluegrass music, and we grew up listening to it performed by many amazing artists. We wanted to do it honor and loved singing it! The message of the song is a great reminder that everything we do contributes to eternity!” echoes Isaacs. “Just like collaborating on this album and song, we are all collaborating towards working together to make life better! We hope they feel the love, grace and truth in the message of this song!”
Bradley shares that she’s “grateful” to work on Country Faith Bluegrass and believes the album represents the three integral elements of American music that are conveyed in the title. She points out how “country” embodies the rural towns scattered across the U.S., as well as the land that encompasses these humble towns, while “faith” symbolizes the resiliency of the people that are part of said country. Bluegrass ties it all together, speaking to regions ranging from southern Appalachia to the northeast, reflecting the melting pot that lives at the heart of America.
“Country, I think that can have a double meaning that’s very similar. You can think of country as the rural part of the United States, and think of country as the United States. You love your country, if that’s the nation, your state, your holler, your valley or wherever that is. Then faith is what a whole lot of those people from the country have shown throughout their life by persevering and looking up to their higher power, to the Lord, for their strength and have known undoubtedly that that’s where their strength came from,” she expresses. “Then bluegrass puts a spin on it. It’s America’s music, so I think that well represents Appalachia, the Delta, the Northeast. Bluegrass blankets all regions and it’s something that originated here. Every part of the country has found their reason to love it, or why it means so much to them. Whoever entitled the album covered it in a very soft, blanketing way that’s a beautiful quilt.”
Country Faith Bluegrass is available on Sept. 17.