10/06/10 — Malpass Brothers bring faith to their music

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Malpass Brothers bring faith to their music

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on October 6, 2010 1:46 PM

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Taylor, left, and Chris Malpass harmonize on a hymn during a recent show. The brothers, who expect to return to touring with Merle Haggard later this year, will perform at a benefit concert Saturday at Wayne Community College.

It's a long way from touring concert halls with Merle Haggard to performing before a small church congregation with your amplifiers sitting in folding chairs, but the Malpass Brothers think nothing of the difference in venues. It's all the same to them. It's not about the size of the crowd, it's about their faith and the Christian message they hope their music generates.

The two Wayne County brothers, whose country-bluegrass gospel performances have carried them to national recognition, mix local shows and coast-to-coast appearances and even international tours with apparent ease, all the while maintaining full-time jobs right here at home.

And they will be back on the road with Haggard in about a month, as soon as the country icon's health improves, they said after a show Sunday night at Westview Christian Church in Kinston. Also soon to come is a new CD, on Haggard's label.

How is does if feel to play alongside a country-music legend?

First off, they said, the old "outlaw" is a born-again Christian.

"People get the old Merle Haggard mixed up with the new Merle Haggard," older brother Chris, 24, told an audience at Northwest Christian Church during a performance Sunday night. "He's been like a father to us. I've never worked with a finer person.

The brothers -- Chris on guitar and Taylor, 21, on mandolin and guitar -- are backed on bass by their father, Chris. Even their mother, Ann, sometimes joins them on-stage. The Malpasses enjoy themselves while they perform, brother kidding brother, both brothers kidding their father and dad getting his licks in from time to time.

"One thing about playing with your family," Chris said, joking with the audience Sunday, "they are always honest with you."

The Malpasses' style is country, but it's not the country you see and hear on music television. It harkens back to an older time, when country and gospel were more closely intertwined. Their website touts their style as "vintage country."

"The reason we sing older songs is because they have such a strong message in them," Chris said. "Nowadays, it seems like people are afraid to tell it like it is."

He noted that in the '50s and '60s, country music performers often included a gospel set in their show. Singers like Johnny Cash, and even Elvis himself considered Christian music an important part of what they did. Television shows that featured country music, such as "The Arthur Smith Show," and even "Hee Haw," often included a hymn somewhere in their lineup.

The brothers might have moved into the big time with their appearances with Haggard and other country stars including Willie Nelson, Marty Stuart and Ray Price, but they have not forgotten their Wayne County roots.

They admit that keeping regular jobs, maintaining a home life (both are married) and still keeping to a demanding show schedule isn't easy. But they have fun, the brothers said.

"It's hard," Chris said, "but you've really got to love it."

The brothers, who started playing music when Chris was 8 years old and Taylor was 9, don't just play gospel. They mix in a good deal of old-time country and bluegrass.

"As long as its good, clean country, I don't have a problem with it," Chris said.

"God has blessed them with gifts and I'm so glad they decided to use those gifts," said Pastor James Kent of Northwest Church, following Sunday night's performance. "They are standing up for the truth. It's wonderful to see young men doing that in this day and time."

The Malpasses will be donating their time Saturday at Wayne Community College when they perform along with Samantha Casey and the Bluegrass Jam in a benefit for Layla Williford, a 2-year-old suffering from cancer. They said they love playing with the Samantha and her father, Daniel.

"They're our favorite people to play with," Chris said.

The brothers will be playing Oct. 23 at the Seven Springs Town Hall. As natives of the Seven Springs area, they said they are looking forward to playing at home for a change. For more information on their schedule, visit www.malpassbrothers.com.