For most musicians who grow up in Kentucky, bluegrass music is part of their DNA, and Christian music icon Steven Curtis Chapman is no exception. His new album, Deeper Roots: Where the Bluegrass Grows, releasing March 22 on his own SC See label, is a return to Chapman’s musical roots that includes his father, brother and son Caleb, as well as Ricky Skaggs and Rascal Flatts’ Gary LeVox.
A five-time Grammy winner whose numerous accolades include 58 Dove Awards, Chapman grew up in Paducah, Ky., singing and playing with his father Herb Chapman Sr. and brother Herbie. He first paid homage to those early days on his 2013 album Deep Roots, an acoustic set featuring mostly classic hymns sold exclusively at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store locations.
His latest collection is a mix of hymns such as “Victory in Jesus,” “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and “How Great Thou Art,” alongside reinvented Chapman hits “Dive” and “Cinderella” and new offerings “‘Til the Blue” and “Where the Bluegrass Grows.”
Chapman recruited LeVox to sing “‘Til the Blue,” a song he co-wrote with Lori McKenna and Barry Dean. Chapman began writing the song after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017. “I remember that feeling as I watched so many families devastated and so many families that had lost, not just their homes and things, but lost family members and loved ones,” Chapman tells Billboard. “When you’ve had devastating loss and trauma in your life, when you see it in someone else’s eyes or hear it in their voice, you can’t help but stir it again and bring that back to the surface.”
Chapman is no stranger to heartache and loss. His youngest daughter, five-year-old Maria, died in an accident in 2008. He felt empathy for those struggling with loss in the aftermath of Harvey.
“As somebody who has suffered devastation and great loss, [I wanted] to say, ‘I know right now you feel like you are never going to feel happy or joy again in your heart. Your sky is so dark right now. Your life feels so heavy and weighty that you’re never going to feel light-hearted and laugh with your family and friends again. I know that feeling so well and so I’m here to say that will happen. You will, by God’s grace, feel the blue will return to your sky,’” he recalls.
As Chapman was preparing to co-write with Dean and McKenna for the first time, he decided to share what he’d started. When they were tossing out ideas, he played the chorus of the song and they loved it, so the threesome finished “‘Til the Blue.” The song, which Billboard premieres below, was initially used to help raise money for Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization aiding the hurricane victims. Chapman then decided it needed to be on his new record, which features LeVox.
Chapman met LeVox and Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney on a flight back from the Grammys a few year ago. “Gary said, ‘I love your music! I grew up singing it in church,’” recalls Chapman. “I was blown away because obviously there’s not a better singer on the face of the planet than Gary LeVox and so the seed was planted then, ‘Let’s do something together sometime.’”
When he was putting Deeper Roots: Where The Bluegrass Grows together, Chapman reached out to LeVox who didn’t hesitate. “I’ve been such a fan of Steven Curtis Chapman for most of my life. Not just as a singer-songwriter, but also as a man of God,” says LeVox. “He lives what he sings about, and so when he called and asked me to do this song with him, I was so humbled. I couldn’t wait. It wasn’t just a song he wanted to bring me in on, he saw a need to bless someone else with such a special song too.”
Despite their hectic schedules, Chapman and LeVox were actually in the studio together to record “‘Til the Blue.” “I had already done some of my vocal and the general part of it and then he came in and did his verse. We did the ending together where we trade off and so we were recording together, which isn’t always the case anymore,” Chapman says.
He recruited Skaggs to record a bluegrass version of his 1999 Christian hit “Dive,” which is being serviced as a single to bluegrass radio. As with LeVox, the two recorded together. “We didn’t think that was going to work out because he was on tour, but we were able to hold the record off just long enough to get him in town,” Chapman says. “He came out to my studio and we got to record together, which has made it that much more special for both of us.”
Chapman also enlisted several family members to join him on the record including his father, brother, son Caleb (of the indie rock band Colony House), his daughter-in-law folk/pop songstress Jillian Edwards, who is married to his son Will Franklin (also of Colony House) and his wife Mary Beth’s brother, Jim Chapman. Skaggs and Chapman’s family members were also featured on his Deep Roots collection.
In addition to having family and friends on vocals, Chapman is proud that the album features some of the bluegrass community’s best known musicians, including Rob Ickes on dobro, Bryan Sutton on guitar and Andy Leftwich on mandolin and fiddle. “A lot of these guys played with Ricky [Skaggs] through the years. There are incredible players on the record. It’s the A-team for sure on the instrumentation and they let me play along,” he says.
The album is the first release on Chapman’s new SC See label, and he’s signed with New Day Distributors for distribution. “It’s been fun to work with Ed Leonard,” Chapman says of New Day’s leader. “He’s such a great guy and this is a new opportunity. It’s been fun to have a whole new team and they are all excited.”
The excitement starts with Chapman, who is relishing an opportunity to return to his roots, taking family and friends along for the ride. “I’ve done and will continue to do music that’s rock and contemporary. It’s not like I’m not switching and becoming a bluegrass artist for the rest of my days,” he smiles, “but this is honoring things that are really important to me–my family, my roots, my Kentucky home, my love for music and my love for God. Kentucky is where those first seeds were planted. Those roots are still there and I love that I got a chance to celebrate them.”