Borrowing: “Kentucky Rose,” by Michael W. Smith

I think it’s time to dust off some old series. Here’s an entry in the long-neglected “Borrowing” category.

Michael W. Smith has never been known for writing country-tinged songs (he left that to his colleague Steven Curtis Chapman), but the little-known ballad “Kentucky Rose” stands out in his catalogue as a refreshing exception. It was included as one of two new songs on his First Decade best-of collection, released in 1993. While the production includes some light rock flourishes, overall the music falls squarely into the genre of early 90s country ballad. With Smith’s knack for melody and keyboard touches, it’s a sonic delight.

The lyrics tell a simple, albeit somewhat syrupy story about a preacher man who gives selflessly to his community. Aside from the oddity that lyricist Wayne Kirkpatrickย  decided to give a flower nickname to a male protagonist, it unfolds rather nicely. Although I read that it was singled but pulled from the air when someone started the rumor that Michael was flirting with New Age spirituality, based solely on the closing line, “Now on that hill one flower grows. They say it is the spirit of Kentucky Rose.” Now, granted, that’s a rather silly closing line, but I always thought it was just a trifling bit of sentimental fluff, thrown in to provide a flavor of folk legend closure. I think people were just overly hyper about Smith since he had been a trail-blazer in 80s Christian rock and then had pop crossover success, both of which were controversial at the time (how times have changed!)

Anyway, upon re-visiting the song recently, I got to thinking that it wouldn’t be hard to adapt it to southern gospel. After all, it’s essentially a country song, and say what the SG purists will, but these days the line between country and gospel isn’t always that sharply defined. The first artist that popped into my head as being perfect for it was Paid in Full. I think lead singer Lance Moore delivers a story really well and could easily make the song his own. It could be a solo + BGV vehicle similar to “The Other Side.” And of course, it’s a given that his vocal would improve on the original. ๐Ÿ™‚ What do you think?


11 thoughts on “Borrowing: “Kentucky Rose,” by Michael W. Smith

  1. Lydia

    Despite a rather repetitious melody (I couldn’t resist mentioning that), a nice country-style song. I found one group of lines obscure, though. What’s the meaning of this?

    Why he’s gone
    God only knows
    Maybe for the company of his Kentucky rose.

    Now, the “he” in the first line is clearly the preacher man, Kentucky Rose, who gave his life saving a boy on a bridge (the details of the boy’s danger and the rescue left somewhat vague). But the “his” in the third line seems like it has to be God, right? I _think_ the meaning is that God allowed Kentucky Rose to die saving the boy because God wanted the company of “his Kentucky Rose” in heaven. Perhaps we’re supposed to figure this out because the word “God” is in the middle line, making it the nearest antecedent to the “his” in the last line, but I still found it somewhat confusing. Plus there’s the fact that since the preacher knowingly risked his life for the boy, there really is no mystery as to “why he’s gone.” He’s gone because he lost his life in a heroic rescue. It’s not like a disease or something where one would normally say, “Why did he die? Why did God let this happen?”

    Okay, I’ll stop over-analyzing now. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I found this post because I wanted to find out whether the story was true of fictional, and apparently it’s the latter.

      Now, my two cents in Lydia’s doubt: for me, the only reasonable assumption would be that Jesus is God’s Kentucky Rose ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Then I’m afraid they’re a bit off the mark when it comes to Jesus’ personality. “His tenderness and a heart that aimed to please” are certainly not what leap off the page for me about Jesus when I read the gospels. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Jon Garrison

    Nice assessment. Let me put out the observation that it could be argued that melodic Michael W. Smith is the Christian equivalent of Paul McCartney, while harder-edged but equally talented Rich Mullins was more akin John Lennon.

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