Remember when the Second Coming was imagined as an awesome but beautiful moment? What’s been lost in the rise of the Rapture Right in the past two decades is the yearning for the hope that ordinary Christians–the meek, say–have traditionally associated with the end of time in their songs and hymns. That joy amid disquiet is captured–or recaptured, I suppose–in “Over the Next Hill,” the first tune on “Billy: the Early Years,” the heavily countrified soundtrack album for the just-released Billy Graham biopic of the same name.
In that first track, “Over the Next Hill,” sung by the country mega-duo Brooks & Dunn and Christian rocker Mac Powell, of the group Third Day, the signs and wonders that tell of the approaching apocalypse come like an old oak tree at the bend of the road that tells us we’re almost home. No rabbis evaporating out of jetliners, no turbaned Sikhs toasted by the divine light. This kind of gentle earnestness is what drew people to Graham.
This same dignity and simplicity defines the rest of the album, which, like the opening tune, freely mixes Christian and country headliners like Powell, Michael W. Smith, Sara Evans, Alan Jackson and Brad Paisley, who contributes a thoughtful instrumental guitar version of “What a Friend I Have in Jesus.”
The highlight moments, typically, are the album’s quietest ones. Patty Griffin evokes the sweet piety of Billy’s late wife, Ruth, thanking God for sending her a man who brought her closer to God. Gregory Page follows with the heartrendingly twangy, throaty “The Great Wild Beyond,” and the album goes out with an all-star choir version of the old standard “Just As I Am.”
If hope for the peace of the eternal is the album’s theme, it also lends hope for a movie worthy of Graham.