Feature Stories

The Book of Mormon meets Grand Ole Opry? This new country album (and the story behind it) is worth a listen

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The Nashville Tribute Band, from left to right: Chad Truman, Dan Truman, Tim Gates, Brad Hull, Ben Truman, and Jason Deere
Photo credit: Russ Dixon

Tim Gates says he will never forget the day he opened the door of his truck, slid into the driver’s seat, started up the engine, and heard a voice reading scripture through his speakers. He was 18 years old, and his mom had put the Book of Mormon on CD in his truck’s stereo.

“So instead of driving around blaring George Strait or Steve Wariner or any of those country music singers [I loved], I drove around listening to these great stories in the Book of Mormon. I found myself taking the long way to work or driving just to drive, just to listen to it,” Tim says. “I wanted so bad to be like these great prophets. They taught people how to be like Christ, how to live like Christ, and how to get closer to Christ. They became heroes just like those country music singers were to me, and it changed my life.”

Tim’s passions eventually landed him with other Latter-day Saint musicians in The Nashville Tribute Band, a group known for fusing country music with gospel truths. Their music has been strengthening spiritual foundations through song for nearly two decades, in large part thanks to the songwriting efforts of founding band member Jason Deere.

In 2005, Jason wrote an album about Joseph Smith called Joseph: A Nashville Tribute to the Prophet. He teamed up with fellow Latter-day Saint Dan Truman, keyboardist for the Grammy Award-winning country group Diamond Rio, to perform it for stakes throughout the southern United States. The music was so well-received that soon more Latter-day Saint musicians joined Jason and Dan, and before long they had a record deal and were touring the country as the newly formed Nashville Tribute Band.

Today the band consists of Jason Deere, Dan Truman, his sons Chad and Ben Truman, Brad Hull, and Tim Gates. Their respective resumes include songwriting, producing, and performing credits with major names in country music such as LeAnn Rimes, Lady A, Little Big Town, and Trace Adkins, just to name a few.

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The Nashville Tribute Band
Photo credit: Russ Dixon

And since that first album honoring the Prophet Joseph Smith was released nearly 20 years ago, the band has released tribute albums to the Bible, Latter-day Saint pioneers who crossed the plains, missionaries, Christmas, the hymns, and Jesus Christ. Each album’s distinctly country sound has offered listeners a new way to appreciate and connect with gospel truths.

For its next project, the band was in the process of recording a more general Christian country album. But in 2022, band members were approached by Deseret Book about doing an album related to the Book of Mormon—an album Jason says people have been asking about for years.

“We’ve covered a lot of the bull’s-eye targets of Latter-day Saint culture and faith. And people have been asking for many years when we’re gonna do an album on the Book of Mormon. But I’ve always brushed it off or thought, ‘How would I not make that hokey?’ When someone would bring it up, I would say, ‘Well, it’s probably not something we’ll ever do.’”

While watching the October 2022 general conference, Jason says he had a fleeting thought about his long-standing attitude on a Book of Mormon album: “Be careful, you might.” He says he mentally responded to the thought: “Noted.”

It was just two days later that Deseret Book asked about his interest in an album about the Book of Mormon. Jason says the timing of it all still gets him choked up; if he’d been asked two weeks earlier, he would have said no, but after that fleeting thought during conference, he was finally ready to say yes.

Shortly thereafter, Jason found himself with a weeklong commitment canceled and an abnormally empty house, as his wife and kids were visiting family out of state. So he went to his basement and wrote nine songs in four days.

“I’ve had moments of wide-open inspiration, but nothing like that. I’m pretty good, but I’m not that good. So I knew at the end of those nine songs that somebody bigger than me needs the world to pay attention to this book,” he says.

Jason’s faith in “somebody bigger than him” comes from a long, storied history of personally seeking a testimony—a testimony that was repeatedly challenged growing up in the South in an area with few Latter-day Saints.

Finding Footing in the Restoration

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Nashville Tribute Band founding member and songwriter Jason Deere
Photo credit: Russ Dixon

Jason Deere’s parents both joined the Church as adults, and he grew up in Oklahoma, where their ward was primarily made up of converts.

“Everybody was trying to figure out what in the world we were doing, just trying to be the best members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that we could be,” he says. “And that has served me well in my life, I think. … It’s served in the way that I write music. I came from human beings trying to figure it out, and that religious experience has made names on the pages [of the scriptures] become breathing, real people that I can relate to.”

Jason’s spiritual foundation became more solid as he had conversations with family and friends about religion. Growing up in the Bible Belt of the southern US, he says many people shared their whole library of anti-Church material with him in an effort to “save him.” Conversations like these propelled Jason into the scriptures and to prayer as he tried to figure things out for himself. He even remembers a bishop commenting in the hallway at church that he could tell Jason was really trying to understand for himself. And while being confronted about his faith by those outside the Church wasn’t easy, Jason looks back on that time of his life with gratitude.

“If it wasn’t for that experience, I never would have dug in or had the desire to learn the whole miracle of the Restoration and the necessity of it all. I wouldn’t have the testimony that I have today. So [my testimony came] by opposition and sheer desire to know and not just coast on somebody else’s testimony. We all have to do that in some way or we’re not gonna hang around,” he says. “The Book of Mormon is the most high-octane book of scripture we’ve got. It is the best witness of Christ we have. It truly converts [to Christ].”

Stories to Build a Foundation On

One of the first tracks on the album, “Read It,” is reflective of Jason’s discussions growing up in the South.

“I spent a whole lot of my life discussing and/or arguing the validity of a book that the person I’m talking to is unwilling to read,” Jason says. So “Read It” is a heartfelt request from the band asking listeners to open the Book of Mormon and read for themselves. The band hopes that in addition to testifying of the truth of the book, this opening song will make it clear from the outset that if you want to know if the stories in the subsequent songs are true, you have to go right to the source.

Often part of what makes Jason’s songwriting so impactful is his ability to write songs about people or stories that are sometimes overlooked, such as his thoughtful treatment of Emma Smith’s perspective on the Joseph album. The song “Emma” has the most digital streams of any Nashville Tribute Band song, with over 414,000 listens. Jason’s approach to telling stories found in the Book of Mormon was no different.

The song “Wicked Man” comes from the perspective of Omni, who has just three verses in the Book of Mormon. In those brief lines, we learn that he was a prophet’s son, and he was given the plates to preserve the genealogy of the Nephites during a time of serious war and bloodshed. Omni writes of himself in verse 2, “But behold, I of myself am a wicked man, and I have not kept the statutes and the commandments of the Lord as I ought to have done.” But Jason’s gifts as a storyteller have given us a peek beyond Omni’s inherently negative and definitive statement and provided a new perspective.

“The only other thing [Omni] says in there is that he saw blood all his days. When you think about the trauma and anxieties people experience [in war] and what it might mean to see blood all your days—how can we possibly judge this man?” he says. “We’re all so imperfect. And we all feel the pressure to be the best we can be. If we’ve lived at all, we all have some scars and some stuff we need to work on. There’s something about Omni’s character that comes out in that song that makes you really reflect on your own imperfections, and it’s become one of my favorites.”

A Foundational Witness of Jesus Christ

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The Nashville Tribute Band’s latest album, Witness: A Nashville Tribute to the Book of Mormon
Photo credit: Deseret Book

Once all the songs had been recorded, most of the band felt like the album had everything it needed. But Dan sensed something was still missing.

“I started feeling like there was something else for us to say. It had to do with people questioning their faith, leaving their faith, leaving their church. [I wondered,] if they are leaving their church, does that include also leaving Jesus?” he says.

The song “What About Jesus? was the result of Dan’s nagging feeling and serves as a beautiful reminder that, in spite of everything hard we may face in life—“after all the darkness and the hurt,” as the song describes—we should remember Jesus. When have you felt His love in the past? What do you believe about Him that might bring you comfort? What truths about Jesus can you cling to when life gets hard?

The lyrics for this song are more introspective than narrative and include only one small reference to the Book of Mormon. But maybe that’s the point: at the core of all we believe about the Book of Mormon, all the stories, all the prophets, all the teachings and truths and life lessons to be learned, it’s truly a book about—and a witness of—the Savior, Jesus Christ.

The group testifies of the book’s role as a witness of Christ in the title for the new album: Witness: A Nashville Tribute to the Book of Mormon. Founding member Dan Truman says the feeling of this entire album has been different for him.

“It carries an extra weight and purpose for us because of the uniqueness of the Book of Mormon,” he says. “It was critical that we capture the right subtleties to represent these great stories and their messages. I think today we have an even bigger need for a ‘second witness of Jesus Christ.’ And, for me, there is no witness as powerful or as encompassing or even as surprising as the Book of Mormon.”

In his October 2021 general conference address, President Russell M. Nelson said, “Please believe me when I say that when your spiritual foundation is built solidly upon Jesus Christ, you have no need to fear. … You will be strengthened by His power. Then, when spiritual earthquakes occur, you will be able to stand strong because your spiritual foundation is solid and immovable.”

The members of The Nashville Tribute Band sincerely understand the importance of a spiritual foundation built on the Savior. And they are using country music to testify that the Book of Mormon is a gift from God to help each of us build that foundation.

The group hopes its album will give a new generation of young country music fans an experience with the Book of Mormon like what Tim experienced in his pickup truck all those years ago.

“As an adult, as a father, as a husband, the Book of Mormon has played a huge role [in my life],” Tim says. “I found that when we sit down as a family and read it, it brings a feeling into our home that is amazing. … I’ve learned that it’s important to make that book a big part of my life.”

The fact that band members would make the Book of Mormon a big part of their musical careers, even choosing it as a topic rather than making a more generally Christian album, speaks to their appreciation for the book as the foundation of their faith in Christ.

“We were in a place where we were excited about a more accessible album [and being able to] promote it at the Grand Ole Opry, that kind of thing,” Jason says. “Any good publicist would tell us not to put this Book of Mormon album front and center ahead of that one. But all the guys will tell you, we don’t care. This—this—is what we were born to do. And we’re so proud to talk about this book that we all know is from God. I’m proud to be able to shout this from the mountaintop.”

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The Nashville Tribute Band
Photo credit: Russ Dixon

Witness: A Nashville Tribute to the Book of Mormon is available now at Deseret Book and DeseretBook.com. You can also listen to the album on Spotify now or in the player below.

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