Aside from founder Ron Thomason's wise-cracking stage banter, the Dry Branch Fire Squad is perhaps best known for its old-fashioned, tight gospel harmonies. The Ohio bluegrass quintet has always included a few gospel songs on every album, but "Memories That Bless & Burn" is its first all-gospel effort since 1986's "Golgotha."
The new disk is an odd hybrid, for it includes both old and new tracks, but the soulful, ancient-mountain quality of the group's singing is consistent throughout.
The album begins with the terrific title track, a melancholy meditation on approaching mortality written and sung by Suzanne Thomas.
That's followed by "Hide You in the Blood," an uptempo duet between Thomason and special guest Hazel Dickens.
Then come two versions of "Looking for the Stone," first in its surging, a cappella 1999 version and then in its rolling, banjo-driven version from the band's 1981 debut.
After six more reissued cuts, the band remakes three previously recorded songs that have been dramatically rearranged.
The album concludes with three more new songs, including a cappella arrangements of "When I Went Down in the Valley To Pray" and "Touch the Hem," as notable for their emphatic rhythms as for their raw, modal harmonies.
Appearing Friday at the Birchmere with the Seldom Scene.
* To hear a free Soundbite from the Dry Branch Fire Squad, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8101. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)