The Dominican House of Studies in D.C., where the Hill­billy Thomists founded their band. | Wiki­media Commons

From the rapid pace of Capitol Hill, eight friars’ sen­sitive har­monies and lovely acoustic instru­mentals present a sophis­ti­cated knowledge of faith.

The Hill­billy Thomists rose to the top ten blue­grass albums of 2017, according to Bill­board, along with Alison Krauss’ “Windy City,” and Steve Martin’s “The Long-Awaited Album.” This group of eight friars and two priests strummed up a Southern col­lection fea­turing classics such as “Amazing Grace,” “Angel Band,” and “Leaning on the Ever­lasting Arms.”

The musical journey of the Dominican brothers from Wash­ington, D.C., started with playing Irish songs for fun. From the House of Studies on Catholic Uni­versity of America’s campus, the “deserving poor boys” (a name alluding to their vows of poverty) took their preaching vocation to a new platform: the recording studio.

The album is not only an expression of their per­sonal com­mitment to the reli­giosity, but a broader cel­e­bration of the joy­fully raucous life of the Christian: messy, earthy, hard, some­times dis­sonant, but hopeful of the life to come.

“I’m a Dog” tells the story of the founder of the order, St. Dominic. Dominic described himself as a dog for God, based on a vision his mother sup­posedly had before his birth. The song encap­su­lates their mission: “I’m a dog with a torch in my mouth for my Lord / making noise while I’ve got time / spreading fire while I’ve got earth.”

Humble and playful, but pur­poseful.

A defining char­ac­ter­istic of the Thomists’ tracklist is the dis­tinctly Protestant her­itage of most of the songs. I’ve always known and sung “What Won­drous Love is This” in my Protestant church. “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” could be drifting from a little white church on Main­street.

The tra­di­tional American tracklist appeals to both Christian and secular lis­teners, however, in light of  the reemer­gence of blue­grass. The Coen brothers pulled the genre back to the surface of the con­tem­porary music scene with their wildly suc­cessful “Oh Brother Where Art Thou,” fea­turing a few of the songs on the Thomists’ album.

Junior Sammy Roberts, pres­ident of Catholic Society on campus, noted the ecu­menical nature of the tracklist. The Dominicans have good social media, Roberts said, noting that mil­lenials know how to market. And evan­gelize.

“Just throwing Bibles isn’t gonna make con­verts,” he said.

The unity is timely for Hillsdale stu­dents, as ques­tions of the Ref­or­mation became the subject of a semester’s public debate. Maybe the songs’ history sig­nifies a small gesture toward the ecu­menicism Chris­tians are longing for.