|Award winning Christian singer-songwriter Christy Sutherland never has to look far for musical inspiration, because her Bible is always close at hand.
"I pick it up all the time, and generally I'll see a scripture and think, 'That would be a great song,'" Christy reports. "In fact, I distinctly remember sitting at Mom Barbara's table with a favorite scripture from Isaiah. I said, 'I have got to find a way to write a song about us being engraved on the palms of God's hands.'"
The result is the moving "The Palms of My Hands." It is one of the many outstanding songs that appear on Christy Sutherland's new album Greater Still. "Mom Barbara," whose table Christy pondered at, is Country Music Hall of Fame member Barbara Mandrell. The two women co-produced Greater Still. This fact is all the more remarkable in that they are mother- and daughter-in-law. Christy's husband and manager is Matt Dudney, Barbara and Ken Dudney's oldest son.
"I know there are not many mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws who could make an album together," says Christy with a laugh. "Not many can even make dinner together.
"She did say in an interview that she didn't think there was anyone else who could have brought her out of retirement. She and I have a lot in common. We have similar tastes. She loves my songs, and thought it would be fun. While I was making my last album, I would bring her the rough mixes from the studio. She'd listen and make suggestions, like, 'The bass needs to come up here.' Or, 'Why don't you try this or that.' So we were already sort of working together.
"Since my mother lives nearly a thousand miles away, Mom Barbara really stepped in and helped with our wedding [in 2006]. She went with me to try on gowns. She did all of our flowers. She made the headpiece for my veil. There's nothing she can't do. We figured if we could do a wedding together and get along, making a record together would be a piece of cake.
"She led the band in prayer before each recording session. We never had any serious disagreements. We were always on the same page."
Barbara Mandrell's two Grammy Awards were both for gospel recordings. She recorded the first version of the powerful crucifixion ballad "He Grew the Tree." Christy's stately rendition of the song became the new collection's first single during the 2011 Easter season. Barbara crafted a new arrangement for the old African-American spiritual "If Jesus Had to Pray" for Christy's project. She also brought out Christy's stunning, a cappella, vocal tour de force on "The Lord's Prayer." Matt requested that Christy record the gospel standard "His Eye Is on the Sparrow."
The album's title tune is recorded as a duet between Christy and vocal powerhouse Jason Crabb. "Greater Still" has a potent message of survival and redemption.
"I have always loved Jason's singing. We sang the duet on TV together right before we shipped it to radio. And radio has really embraced the song. Jason had me as a guest on his Christmas show last year. That night, his manager and Matt were sitting together, and both of them were saying, 'I think they would sound good together.' So when Matt asked me who I would like to do a duet with, I said, 'Jason Crabb.' So Mom Barbara called Jason, and asked him to be on the album."
Christy's other compositions on Greater Still range from the country story song "Don't Blame Jesus" to the R&B gospel shouter "Keep on Waiting." The yearning, autobiographical "Be Everything" is a deeply personal testimony, and the lilting, sweetly nostalgic "The Old Path" draws from the Book of Jeremiah.
Greater Still is available exclusively at Family Christian Bookstores, the largest such chain in the nation. A portion of the album's proceeds benefits the company's foundation, The James Fund.
"It was important for Matt and me to be involved with a charity, and this just seemed perfect," says the singer-songwriter. "The James Fund is based on the scripture in the Book of James where the church is commissioned to care for widows and orphans. So they build orphanages all over the world. They care for widows. They get young girls out of human-trafficking situations. They are the Real Deal.
"The president of the James Fund asked me, 'Would you write us a theme song?' So Regi Stone and I wrote 'Show the Love.' Now they are publishing a book inspired by the song, and they'll have a CD in each one. Mom Barbara and I produced it with a full string section and a choir, and the sheet music has been published by Word."
"Show the Love" is only her latest songwriting success. Since embarking on her Christian recording career in 2005, Christy Sutherland has become widely acclaimed as both a vocalist and a composer, seemingly overnight.
In 2009, the Christian Music Hall of Fame presented its Visionary Award for Southern Gospel Female Vocalist of the Year to her. In 2010, she won the prestigious Diamond Award for Christian Country Female Vocalist of the Year. In 2011, she was tied as the most nominated artist and co-hosted the Diamond Awards for the second year in a row.
During the past six years, she has appeared on The 700 Club and Hour of Power international television programs, been the subject of two feature articles in The Singing News and sung at Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral Christmas and Easter television specials in California. She has also sung at the late Rev. Jerry Falwell's famed Thomas Road Baptist Church in Virginia and at Liberty University's 9,000-student convocation. She performed a showcase in Louisville at this year's National Quartet Convention.
Christy has taped her first Gaither Homecoming video and appeared several times on Bill Mack's nationally-heard satellite radio show on Sirius/XM's "Willie's Place" channel. She sang at the Southern Gospel Hall of Fame Inductions in 2009. Major artists such as Sandi Patty, Rizen, The Greenes and Kim Hopper have recorded her Christian compositions. Prelude issued her song "You Call Me Yours" as a single. Triumphant Quartet scored a top-5 hit with her song "Somebody Died for Me." As a result, it was one of the Singing News Top 10 Songs of the Year, was nominated as Song of the Year at the Singing News Awards and won the Absolutely Gospel Traditional Song of the Year award in 2011.
Christy's "God Is in This Place" was published in a popular Word Music worship choral. Taranda Greene also recorded it on one of her albums. "Cry in the Dark" was picked up by Lifeway for its Christmas musical Imagine. During the past five years, more than 40 recordings have been made of Christy Sutherland's songs.
Her own versions of most of her award-winning songs appeared on her 2010 CD, Christy Sutherland. Greater Still is her second full-length collection.
For the past four years, Christy has starred in Louise Mandrell's Christmas extravaganzas at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville alongside her famous aunt-in-law. As always, she prays before each show.
"I am constantly amazed and humbled by the fact that God would use me," she says. "His plans are so much bigger than ours."
Christy Sutherland has spent more than a decade in Nashville. During that time, she garnered two major-label country recording contracts, a staff writing position for one of the biggest publishing companies on Music Row, multiple appearances on the Grand Ole Opry and a degree from Belmont University. Throughout this period, she remained a steadfast Christian. When she began using the Bible as inspiration for her songwriting, she found a whole new life.
"I still read my Bible every day and pray the way I always did. One of my favorite scriptures is Romans 8:28 'And we know that in ALL things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.'"