Billy: The Early Years Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Arista Nashville/Essential Records)
Released October 2008
By Russ Breimeier
Sounds like … Christian pop singers Michael W. Smith, Third Day's Mac Powell, Brandon Heath and American Idol finalist Melinda Doolittle join an array of country greats including Brooks & Dunn, Josh Turner, Patty Griffin, and Alan Jackson.
At a glance … though an enjoyable country-pop soundtrack for the movie that celebrates the life and early ministry of Reverend Billy Graham, it's not quite the event album one would hope for with such big names involved.
1. Over the Next Hill—Brooks & Dunn and Mac Powell
2. Low—Sara Evans
3. Look at Me—Alan Jackson
4. Shelter Me—China Edelman
5. Ruth's Prayer—Patty Griffin
6. Heavenly Day—Brandon Heath
7. The Great Wild Beyond—Gregory Page
8. Amazing Love—Michael W. Smith and Melinda Doolittle
9. In Dreams—Roy Orbison
10. What a Friend We Have in Jesus—Brad Paisley
11. Almost Persuaded—Josh Turner
12. Just As I Am—Sierra Hull with All-Star Choir
Billy: The Early Years is a movie with much potential, focused on Reverend Billy Graham's development as a believer, preacher, and husband. Unfortunately, like most Christian film productions, it misses the mark with clumsy storytelling, failing to connect the dots in explaining Reverend Graham's journey from gawky seminary student to the greatest evangelist of the twentieth century.
Still, it's at least impressive to watch Armie Hammer inhabit the role so comfortably, gradually adapting the fames preacher's manner and affectations before our eyes. At the very least, the movie gets its performances right, and that much goes for the music too. Despite the film's shortcomings, the Billy: The Early Years soundtrack brings together an impressive array of performances by big names from both country and Christian pop.
The most memorable songs accompany the movie's opening and closing credits, playing to the image of Reverend Graham slowly walking along a road. The opener is a rendition of Johnny Cash's "Over the Next Hill," performed by Brooks & Dunn with Mac Powell (Third Day)—a well done and charming country number, even if the distinctive voices aren't a perfect blend. Closing the film is "Amazing Love," an effective pop duet between Michael W. Smith and Melinda Doolitte, though Smitty is out-sung by the American Idol finalist and the arrangement is a tad overblown.
Aside from a soulful, acoustic-based performance of Patty Griffin's "Heavenly Day" by Brandon Heath, the soundtrack is predominantly country, and perhaps a bit too contemporary given the film's historical context. Sara Evans' rendition of "Low" is pleasant but more of a modern country-pop styled track, and Alan Jackson's tender "Look at Me" is a romantic ballad that could be used in any contemporary movie. For that matter, Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" plays on a radio within the film, yet the classic was written and released as a single after the events depicted in the movie.
Most of the songs reflect themes of finding our way, seeking guidance from God, appropriately reflecting Reverend Graham's personal journey, but the soundtrack works best when it specifically recalls his life. Obviously the hymn "Just as I Am" played a big part in Reverend Graham's ministry, but it's also poignant how Alan Jackson sets Ruth Bell Graham's prayer for the right husband to a song ("Ruth's Prayer," sung by Patty Griffin). Josh Turner even portrays a young George Beverly Shea in the movie, delivering "Almost Persuaded" with a similar bass croon (though somehow, it's not quite the same).
A good soundtrack overall, but it ultimately plays more like an excuse to bring together big names from country and Christian pop. Like the movie, it's not quite the classic or event that it should have been.