CD Review: Keeps On Rolling Along (The New Gospel Singing Caravan)
In the 1950s and the 1960s, the Blackwood Brothers and Statesmen set the pace for the Southern Gospel industry, and defined the genre as we know it today. From the mid-1960s through the 1970s, multi-artist television shows and tours defined their era. The Gospel Singing Jubilee and the Gospel Singing Caravan were the two most prominent, and numerous well-known groups found their launch onto the national stage through appearances on the programs.
The Jubilee was the best-known of the shows/tours, so it was a natural choice for a name when the Booth Brothers, Legacy Five, and Greater Vision decided to launch a multi-artist tour. Since the Gospel Singing Caravan was the second-best-known brand, it was a logical choice once members of the LeFevre Quartet and Blackwood Brothers started talking with one another and with a publicist and a booking agent. (The Chuck Wagon Gang joined the project a little later.)
The New Gospel Singing Caravan made their debut last September, opening Daywind’s 100 Years of Gospel Music showcase. Keeps on Rolling Along is the ensemble’s first release. The title is a play off of the Gospel Singing Caravan’s theme song, “This Great Caravan Keeps on Rolling Along,” included as the project’s opening track.
The song selection is remarkably strong. There are a few songs (“How Great Thou Art,” “O the Glory Did Roll,” “Sinner’s Plea”) which practically every group has on one (or two or three) table projects. Thankfully, though, these are in the minority; while it probably helps a project of this nature to have a few songs any Southern Gospel fan would know, the remainder of the selection is more diverse. Several classic convention songs which haven’t been done frequently in recent years (“Daniel Prayed,” “Wait Upon the Lord”) shine in sparkling new arrangements.
“I Always Have a Song to Sing” is the same new convention song cut in 2008 by the Mark Trammell Trio. There are two songs on the project both titled “Crown Him King”; while both are strong convention songs, it would have made sense to bump one to the ensemble’s second release. One is the classic convention song cut by the Cathedrals in the early 1980s; the other is the new Dianne Wilkinson song which earned the Inspirations acclaim on their 2009 release The Son Came Down. The Wilkinson tune is one of the strongest on the project, highlighted by bass solos from Randy Byrd, Dave Emery, and Mike Allen.
When I saw this ensemble’s first joint performance, at the aforementioned 100th Anniversary of Gospel Music showcase, I said:
The clean and precise enunciation of this twelve-piece ensemble was pretty remarkable; even the best choirs frequently have a muddy sound due to enunciation, even with members staying reasonably on key, but this ensemble had great pitch and well-matched enunciation and placement.
The enunciation remains remarkable in the studio setting. These three groups have evidently spent more time working together on enunciation, placement, and phrasing as an ensemble than a number of lazier professional groups spend on their individual group sound!
Keeps On Rolling Along takes the concept recently re-popularized through the New Jubilee series—and improves upon it. The careful attention paid to enunciation, placement, and delivery, coupled with the well-matched voices—it would be hard to find three bass singers who could do a better unision than Byrd, Emery, and Allen—moves the album to the head of its class. It’s the strongest multi-group Southern Gospel project in modern times.
Especially where there is more than one voice per harmony part, ensemble singing is naturally muddy. It takes hard work to match enunciation, placement, and phrasing—hard work that is rarely done to perfection, even with choirs at the talent level of a Gaither Homecoming choir. For song selection and delivery, and for the tightest multi-group ensemble sound in Southern Gospel, Keeps On Rolling Along earns The New Gospel Singing Caravan a five-star rating.
Produced by: Not listed on pre-release copy. • Group Members: The Chuck Wagon Gang (Julie Hudson, Shaye Smith, Stan Hill, Dave Emery, Joe Rotton), The Blackwood Brothers (Wayne Little, Jimmy Blackwood, Billy Blackwood, Randy Byrd, Mike Hammontree), The LeFevre Quartet (Jeremy Easley, David Staton, Mike LeFevre, Mike Allen, Jordan LeFevre. • Review copy provided. • Song list: This Great Caravan Keeps On Rolling Along; Crowin Him King; Sinner’s Plea; I Always Have a Song to Sing; Wait Upon the Lord; Revival Days; I’m Too Near Home; O the Glory Did Roll; Crown Him King; Daniel Prayed; I’ve Found a Hiding Place; How Great Thou Art. • Average song rating: 4.33 stars. CD rating: 5 stars.