Randall King’s Version of ‘I’ll Fly Away’ Is Dang Sad, But Feels So True [Listen]
There are dozens and dozens of versions of the gospel classic "I'll Fly Away," but Randall King's rendition offers a different look at Albert E. Brumley's 1929 hymn than country fans are used to.
What is often a more uptempo, bluegrass-tinged song becomes a slowed-down, twangy reflection. It's not necessarily any less hopeful than the more commonly performed version -- the lyrics remain the same, after all — but its hope is the sort that takes more contemplation to find. King's delivery takes listeners to a different place.
"For me, that song is in a whole different place," King shares. "... I find peace in a little bit slower, sadder music. There's something to slowing down and taking a deep breath, and I think that's what that song does ... It makes everything more real, you know?"
King hasn't always played "I'll Fly Away" that way, though. In 2017, he played a more traditional version at his paternal grandfather's funeral. King's grandpa — one of "four generations of truck drivers and hay haulers," the artist says — died of Alzheimer's, and the celebration of his life included messages from his grandkids, written on balloons and sent toward Heaven.
After his grandfather's death, however, King wrote his 2018 release "When He Knows Me," and during one soundcheck, he found a way to intertwine that song with his version of "I'll Fly Away."
King's version of "I'll Fly Away" appears on his Leanna EP, released in late 2020. The project, his first with Warner Music Nashville, is named for his older sister, who died in April of 2020, at the age of 32. King played "I'll Fly Away" the last time he saw her — at his other grandfather's funeral that February — and then ...
"I didn't know that that was going to be the song that I sing her home to Jesus to, but when she passed, she was in the ICU, and me and all my family were gathered around an oak tree — only my dad could be in there [with her]," King recalls. "He sort of put us on speakerphone, laid it by her head. Me and the whole family sang gospel songs for about 45 minutes, and then we get into that song, and that's when she went."
Leanna was three years older than King — he also has a second sister, about a decade older than him, who "wasn't always in the picture" — and he says she took her role as older sister to heart.
"Everything she did, she was always looking out for me: 'Don't do that, Randall — you'll get in trouble,'" shares King, adding that he "did it anyway."
"She was beautiful person inside and out. She cared more about others than she did herself ... even as a kid," he continues. "She was a big reason that I love music. She's a lot of my self-confidence: Everything that I would do, I would I would look to her to see her reaction on it ... So she was she's very special person to me, and she was very beautiful. And this EP really reflects her."
The Leanna EP contains three additional songs. Fans can hear them live this spring and summer, as King has a number of shows on his calendar.