REVIEW: Frank Newsome’s “Gone Away With a Friend” is Culturally Significant Hymns


The music of Frank Newsome, coming from Old Regular Baptist country in the heart of Appalachia, seems as distant as one can get in America from the environs that spawned rap, but the source of their appeal is really quite similar. Both the traditional music of his new release:  Gone Away With A Friend (Free Dirt Records) and even the most cutting edge hip-hop, focus on the use of language and vocal delivery to convey a real emotion.  Covering traditional hymns like “The Long Black Train,” “When I Heard,” and “Beulah Land,” and others, the tracks for this album were recorded a capella live at the Little David Church in Haysi, VA in 2006, and is finally being released.

Noted Americana musician Jim Lauderdale discovered Newsome at a festival organized by Ralph Stanley. (For some more on Jim Lauderdale click one of these bolded words right here.) Lauderdale writes in the liner notes that Newsome’s singing was one of the “most powerful, spiritual, mournful, emotional, beautiful, and hopeful things I have ever heard.” Newsome is the voice of a part of America that most of us have forgotten and choose to forget. At the age of 41, after 17 and a half years “under the mountain,” Newsome contracted black lung and has been totally disabled ever since – unable to work. Newsome has taken solace in finding a calling as a preacher. Born one of 22 children, the son of a miner, Newsome’s life has been one of true hardship, and the emotions heard in these songs are authentic and sometimes raw. This album is powerful stuff, but is by no means easy listening.

On another level, this record holds real cultural significance. The Old Regular Baptists believe that instrumental accompaniment in Church is sacrilegious because the New Testament does not mention musical instruments. While other denominations have modernized, this tiny sect, limited to a small area of Appalachia at the corners of Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia, has not. They have maintained their hymnology and musical traditions for hundreds of years. It is a lineal ancestor of Old-Time music, and these are the first recordings of an Old Regular Baptist Preacher singing in this way.

For his mastery of his craft and his role as a representative of his musical tradition, Newsome was named an NEA National Heritage Fellow in 2011. This album has strong appeal not only for its emotional power, but for its significance to the history of Americana music. Get your copy, here!

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