Contemporary Christian music icon turned Grand Ole Opry regular Steven Curtis Chapman revisited the gospel music of his childhood alongside Paducah, Kentucky family and Nashville friends on Grammy-nominated album Deeper Roots: Where the Bluegrass Grows, which was released back in March by Chapman's own SCSEE imprint.
"It was me getting a chance to go back to the deepest roots of music for me," Chapman says. "I grew up with bluegrass and folk music being the earliest sounds I remember hearing as a little boy. My dad was in a folk/bluegrass group that performed regionally around our area of Kentucky. That sound of upright bass, acoustic guitar, mandolin, Dobro and fiddle defined music and fun and laughter and all of that together."
A bulk of Chapman's bluegrass album features family. For instance, Chapman's dad Herb Chapman Sr. and brother Herb Chapman Jr. join him for bluegrass versions of "Life is Like a Mountain Railroad," "Victory in Jesus," "Without Him" and "Great is Thy Faithfulness." In addition, daughter-in-law and indie folk singer Jillian Edwards Chapman guests on "How Great Thou Art" while son Caleb Chapman appears on the worship service anthem "Be Still and Know."
"To have my papa at 80 years old to come sing with me and to get his voice captured on a recording was a gift," Chapman adds. "That was worth the whole process for me."
The album also includes appearances by two members of Chapman's circle of country music friends: his "bluegrass big brother" Ricky Skaggs ("Dive") and fan turned peer Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts ("Til' the Blue"). "Dive" first appeared on Chapman's Grammy-winning album Speechless.
"TIl' the Blue's" Nashville ties go beyond Chapman's duet partner. Chapman co-wrote the song with Lori McKenna and Barry Dean.
"One day I had a writing session to go write with them, and I came in with this idea," Chapman says. "I'd been watching some coverage on the news of families and people devastated by a hurricane in the Houston, Texas area that hit several years ago. Just seeing the interviews and seeing that look of just 'I lost everything. I don't know if my world will ever be bright again. It just seems like this storm that has moved in on us physically represents a storm that's going to last the rest of our life.' How do you build back from devastating loss of homes and belongings but also loved ones?"
Thoughts of unthinkable personal grief reminded Chapman of the 2008 death of his 5-year-old daughter Maria Sue Chunxi Chapman.
"It really stirred something deep in me, having journeyed with my family through the devastating loss of our youngest daughter," he adds. "I remember hearing people laugh when we'd gather in the early days after our little girl passed away and thinking, 'I don't know that I'll ever be able to laugh again. I don't know that my heart will feel light again to be able to experience joy.' Having people who would say, 'I think you will again, and until then, I'm going to walk with you. I'm going to be a friend. I'll be with you in your sadness and your confusion until that day comes. I believe it will, and I'll believe it for you until you can.' That was such a huge gift."
The track list features a looser, less obvious tie to another major city in country music lore. "I'll Fly Away" was written by Albert E. Brumley, the father of Bakersfield, Cal. legend and longtime Buck Owens side musician Tom Brumley.
For the follow-up to his 2013 bluegrass album Deep Roots (issued by Cracker Barrel), Chapman brought in respected bluegrass and country talents. His supporting cast includes brother-in-law and backup singer Jim Chapman; co-producer, multi-instrumentalist and fellow Christian music veteran Brent Milligan; Dobro master Rob Ickes; and multiple banjo-picking talents.
Since its release, Chapman's mixture of familiar hymns, fan-favorite hits and brand-new songs earned the singer-songwriter his second Billboard No. 1 on Bluegrass Albums chart and his first chart-topper on the iTunes Country Albums chart. On Jan. 26, Chapman, a five-time Grammy award-winner, vies for Best Roots Gospel Album at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards.