The band consists of 10 members from the Dominican House of Study and St. Dominic's Priory in Washington D.C. It began as a lighthearted project with a focus on traditional Celtic music.
"The band itself was started by a couple of friars in our province," said Brother Jonah Teller, who sings and plays guitar in the band. It grew out of a group of brothers who would get together to play Irish tunes, he said.
At first, the project was a fun excuse for the brothers to get together weekly and enjoy music. But as it grew from Irish tunes to more folk and bluegrass, the band began to perform publicly, receiving gigs for Catholics venues outside of the house.
The name "Hillbilly Thomists" comes from a line delivered by Catholic author Flannery O'Connor. After her novel Wise Blood was released, she said people had identified her as a "hillbilly nihilist," to which she responded that she was more like a "hillbilly Thomist."
The album is eponymous – named after the band – and consists of 12 songs featuring instruments including the guitar, washboard, fiddle, banjo, and the bodhrán, an Irish drum. Eleven of the songs are covers of old-timey spirituals like "Poor Wayfaring Stranger," "Amazing Grace," and "St. Anne's Reel." The album also includes an original song, "I am Dog," written by Brother Justin Bolger.
When asked how music corresponds to evangelization, the band emphasized that humans are both spiritual and physical beings, and that their spirits are lifted by beautiful images and sounds, especially when accompanied by Scripture-based lyrics.