Mega CD Review: We Will Stand Our Ground (Kingdom Heirs)
Jerry Martin’s recent addition to the Kingdom Heirs made We Will Stand Our Ground one of 2011’s most anticipated projects. The project releases next Tuesday.
Over the last month, several of Southern Gospel’s longest-running and most active bloggers—Brian Crout, Adam Edwards, Wes Burke, Brandon Coomer, Aaron Swain, David Bruce Murray [EDIT, 3/16/13: Broken link removed], Steve Eaton, and me—have reviewed and discussed the project. Every now and then, with a highly anticipated project, we decide to post a joint mega review instead of separate reviews. That’s what we did here; we each took a song or two to kick off with an initial review. Then the rest posted our own thoughts and/or follow-up comments. Enjoy!
1. I’m Not Worried About Forever
Brian: The opening track is the first of several songs on the project that serve as an encouragement for the Christian of the 21st century, with lyrics that are relevant to today’s Christian experience. There are so many things going on around us that can cause confusion and doubt, but there’s on thing that we as Christians don’t have to worry about, and that’s eternity, which is the only thing that really matters. The chorus ends with the well-crafted hook: “I’m not worried ‘bout forever, and God’s got me covered today.”
Though the lyrics deal very much in the contemporary (including a reference to CNN), the music draws from the golden era of southern gospel, complete with plenty of major thirds and sixths. This is a great way to start off the album for the listener needing a little lift.
Adam: When I began listening to this project, I found it odd that this one kicked it off through the first two verses. Although the vocals are high quality (but then again, this is the Kingdom Heirs and is to be expected), this feels to me like SG easy-listening and I feel it doesn’t give the CD the kickoff it deserved. I think it would have worked well on down into the project.
Wes: This is a pretty nondescript way to kick off the album. It’s a decent mid to uptempo number that allows the group to showcase a very smooth blend. It’s not going to knock your socks but the vocals are well done. The vocals on the tag are surprisingly light and soft, but that really is keeping with the overall feel of the song.
2. Tell Me Why
DBM: “Tell Me Why” falls in that territory between a fast and medium tempo with a straight country arrangement. I’d have preferred hearing Arthur Rice keep the melody to the very end rather than handing it off to Jerry Martin and it feels like it’s about one chorus too long. Overall, though, this is precisely the sort of song I like to have lifting my spirit when I’m riding in my car.
Wes: This song is a bit more energetic than the previous song. Jerry Martin really blends well with Arthur Rice. I’d probably have switched this song with the one before it to give then album a little more of a punch at the start. Solid tune.
3. I’m A Brand New Man
Steve: This is one of several songs lately that talks about Zacchaeus. Jeff Chapman takes the lead on the verses to this up tempo number. It speaks of Zacchaeus becoming a brand new man after his encounter with Christ and brings that message to the ‘everyday joe’ listening to the song. While not one of the stronger songs of the recording, it is still a feel good number that Kingdom Heir fans should enjoy.
Daniel: I’d agree, but I would add that it would be one of the stronger songs on many other groups’ recordings. But this batch of songs is so strong overall that this one can get overshadowed.
Adam: I find myself really enjoying Jeff Chapman’s solos as much as his bass part. He has turned into a great singer, as well as a great bass singer. Sometimes I like to listen to some of his solos when he was with the Anchormen and then listen to him today so the maturity of his vocals can be appreciated. Good stuff!
DBM: I know a lot of the focus is on what Jerry Martin adds to the Kingdom Heirs, and there’s no doubt he’s terrific. That being said, Jeff Chapman’s features on this CD are the highlight for me. I’d say this IS one of the stronger songs on this project.
Wes: Jeff Chapman shows why he’s considered one of the best basses in the business on this song. His vocals are very well done on this driving number. Again, this song doesn’t really reach out and grab you, but Chapman’s vocals are a definite highlight.
4. If You Give the Devil an Inch
Wes: This is a jazzy little number that features Arthur Rice on the verses with Jerry Martin taking the melody on the chorus. The chorus features some nice thick harmonies. The Kingdom Heirs have done a lot of these jazzy type numbers and they always do them well. Jerry Martin really sounds smooth and effortless on this one, and there are some really nice chords in the chorus. The lyrics are pretty clever, as you’re expecting the whole “give an inch, he’ll take a mile”, but that never appears, instead it turns on a double meaning of the word “ruler.”
5. Heaven is My Goal
Brandon: “Heaven is My Goal” kicks off with some old time piano playing (in my mind, I can almost see someone tap dancing during the kick off), before settling into the feel of a classic up tempo quartet song. Arthur Rice handles the lead during the verses and the second half of the choruses, with Jerry Martin taking the step out lines on the first half of the choruses. Jeff Chapman isn’t the featured vocalists on this song, but he hits some good notes, especially on the end of the second verse and the song’s true ending.
An interesting twist is that the third time through the chorus, the instrumentation drops to just the piano (in the same style as the kick off and turnaround) for a couple of lines. During this, the piano sounds like it is coming from an old LP or radio, which I think is an illusion due to the style, although it could be an intentional effect. Either way, it adds to the classic quartet feel.
To me, this track is reminiscent of the group’s hit “I Know I’m Going There” in places. The transitions between the kickoff and turnaround into the verses sound a lot like the same parts of the former #1 hit. This song also features a false ending. As I mentioned, this song just sounds like a classic quartet song, much like the older song. I can also see this being just as big a hit as “I Know I’m Going There”. This is the first song on the project that grabbed my attention and is still my top pick on the CD.
Brian: While listening to the CD the first time through, I found myself saying things like “oh, that’s nice”, “pretty good song”, and “solid performance” during the first few songs. Then “Heaven Is My Goal” played, and my reaction was “Yes! That’s what I’m talking about!” Somebody woke up Jerry Martin! I was demanding that final turnaround on the first listen, and I was happy to hear the quartet oblige. This is my favorite song on the album, and I will not be surprised if a lot of people feel the same way. Big hit, all the way.
Daniel: Brandon – I think Jeff Collins doesn’t tap dance! At any rate, I’ve never seen him do it, and he sure wasn’t when playing for this album’s tracking session!
If it wasn’t for the lyrical power of the closing song, this one might be my favorite, too. At any rate, it’s certainly one of the project’s strongest songs!
Adam: Brian, this is my favorite song on the project as well. Although I thought Billy Hodges was a great fit with the KH, I honestly feel that Jerry Martin is the best SG tenor on the road today. I can’t wait to see and hear how the group’s sound gels over the next year or so.
Wes: Now this is what I was looking forward to hearing from the group with Jerry Martin. This is straight ahead quartet singing that is as good it gets. I love this song! The chord progression and the harmony on the line “There’s a longing deep within my soul” is especially nice. I just wish they’d have inverted the harmony up on the final tag, but we can’t have everything.
6. It’s Real
Brian: Before joining the Kingdom Heirs in 1995, Arthur Rice traveled with Squire Parsons. Perhaps due to Rice’s influence and as a form of tribute to the Hall of Fame singer-songwriter, the quartet has recorded several of Parsons’ older songs over the years. Rice has taken the lead on such classics as “Hello Mama,” “He Came to Me,” “More Than I Ever Asked For,” “I Sing Because,” and of course, “Sweet Beulah Land.” This trend continues on We Will Stand Our Ground with a song recorded by the Squire Parsons Trio and The McKameys in 1995, “It’s Real.”
“It’s Real” is a simple uptempo number with a convention feel. Unlike the other Parsons songs mentioned above, Rice is only featured in a few step out lines in the verses. Jeff Chapman handles the step outs in the chorus until Jerry Martin is turned loose (two octaves higher, of course) on the repeat choruses near the end of the song. The arrangement is pleasantly simple, with a fun call-and-response ending. This is too good a song to leave sitting on old cassettes, and I’m glad the Kingdom Heirs are helping to keep numbers like this alive.
Adam: This was a fun song to listen to. It is also among my favorites from the project. Just good quartet singing!
Wes: I miss the days of waiting for what all Squire Parsons songs I’d hear on quartet CDs. Squire is one of my favorite writers, and this is a very typical Squire song. I’ll bet this one becomes a concert favorite, and would make a good radio cut as well. Once again, I wish they’d have taken the last chord up instead of coming back down.
7. When Heaven’s Gates Swing Open Wide
Daniel: When the Cathedrals released “Oh Come Along” in ’94, McCray Dove told its author, Dianne Wilkinson, that it sounded so true to the convention song style that he looked through all his old Stamps-Baxter songbooks before realizing that it was a brand-new song.
“When Heaven’s Gates Swing Wide,” another brand-new convention song from Wilkinson, is another song that has such an authentic convention feel that it could be mistaken for a 75-year-old classic. It’s not a driving uptempo convention song; it is mid-tempo and features a lilting tenor part with lead/baritone/bass counterpoint.
Brian: Count me in the number who still loves this style of music. Just a piano and four voices, and it does indeed sound like something right out of a 1940’s Stamps Baxter collection.
Adam: Dianne Wilkinson has a gift for writing new “Old” songs. Songs like this feel like they came off of an old Blackwood brothers or Statesmen LP.
Daniel: I couldn’t have said it better. In fact, that’s what I took two paragraphs above to try to say!
Wes: Much like “Crown Him King” from the New Caravan CD that was recently released, Dianne Wilkinson has perfectly captured the feel of vintage SG quartet music. I’ll add my vote in as another that still enjoys this type of music.
8. I’m Gonna Hit the Ground Running
DBM: This boogie swing track features Jeff Chapman singing the verses and digging into some massive low notes. The other vocals add a few “doo-wops” and some thick harmonies. It’s in the same vein as some of the songs Palmetto State Quartet used to do when Harold Gilley was their bass: “Jubilee’s A’Comin’” and “No Back Door To Heaven.”
Brian: Chapman shines again on this one, and I love what the rest of the guys do on the second verse to back him. They let loose on the chorus with the jazzy chords, and end it with the classic sixth. This one is lots of fun.
Wes: Once again Jeff Chapman hits a home run on this song that sounds like it came straight out of the 50s. One of the things that stands out to me is the cleanness and bounciness of his solo lines. Bass singers especially have a tendency to slur from note to note occasionally, but Chapman is very precise with his syllables and pitches. Another really enjoyable song.
9. No Bones About It
Aaron: If there is one style of Southern Gospel that the Kingdom Heirs have really taken on as their own over the years, it’s the driving, country-style quartet song. This song about the fact of Jesus’ resurrection is no exception. I like the clever play on words that the song uses to make it’s point that the grave is empty: “No bones about it, Jesus isn’t there!” Jeff Chapman’s low note lead-ins to each chorus are reminiscent in sound to Matt Fouch of Soul’d Out Quartet, and indeed, the entire song sounds like something that the young quartet would do, especially with Jerry Martin’s more open tenor tone than the group has usually known. Look for this to go over well for the group in concerts.
Daniel: The song was co-written by Kingdom Heirs drummer Dennis Murphy and Dianne Wilkinson; Murphy had the idea and the chorus, and Wilkinson finished the song.
Wes: Chapman really drags the bottom on the chorus on this country flavored tune. Another solid tune, but to me isn’t quite as strong as the previous few cuts.
10. Where’s John
Aaron: Jeff Chapman steps out front to deliver this chilling new song. Daniel made the comment earlier in a discussion that this song would find a place on a list of the “Top Ten Creepiest Southern Gospel Songs,” and that statement would be correct!
The song is written from the perspective of an unsaved man who is looking for his brother, John, who has mysteriously gone missing. While the Rapture is never directly mentioned, the listener can tell that it is the setting for the story from various lines, which refer to the cemetery being robbed and “open graves all over the place,” as well as “many people missing.” The storyteller mentions the fact that John told him over and over about Jesus’ eventual return, but he just laughed it off. The chorus reveals his despair as he cries out to God asking, “Where’s John?”
Aside from the fact that the song’s lyrical content is attention-grabbing in and of itself, Chapman’s performance is no slouch either; indeed, it may be one of the best of his career. His tone is smooth throughout, and the very tangible emotion in his delivery helps propel the lyric. He displays quite a vocal range for a bass as well, topping off on the bridge with a high B (maybe some of the more musically educated among us can tell me the exact term for that note!) and then ending the song in “Tim Riley territory.” All in all, this song will be one of the most talked about when this project hits stores.
Daniel: I would have to agree, this song is easily one of the definitive performances of Jeff Chapman’s career. In fact, I will go farther: I could not point to any other performance that better shows the spectrum of his abilities.
Aaron, technically it’s a B3, but in our genre, someone says B3 and we think “Hammond Organ”! So maybe we could just say “the B a note below middle C.”
Aaron: Thanks, Daniel. I was thinking about going ahead and calling it that, but figured I’d better see if there was a technical name to put first!
DBM: Aaron, you could just say it’s MIDI note number 59. LOL
Brian: Lyrically it reminds me of “The Last Sunday”. Vocally it reminds me of Chapman singing “Good News From the Graveyard”. Musically it sounds like something from Carlos Santana. This is definitely the most outside-the-box song on the project, but it works. Chapman absolutely delivers the goods here.
Adam: I really like this song. Hopefully they will sing this at Dollywood and maybe some people will ponder on the message behind it. I think this song could be a great witnessing tool for the group. The vocals are cool enough and good enough to grab your attention and the message in the lyrics is powerful. I loved it!
Wes: This is a pretty unique cut, done totally in a minor key. It almost has a little bit of a Latin feel, the comparison to Santana is probably as close as I could guess as well. I don’t know that the song would make a big radio hit, but it’s definitely different. I have a feeling that there won’t be much middle ground on this song. You’re either going to like it or not. I like it.
11. Just Preach Jesus
Adam: In a quartet, it is often the singers instead of the song that grab our attention. This song gives us the best of both. The vocals on this cut are excellent, but even more impressive to me are the lyric they sing. Although there is a simplicity to the hook of the song, it speaks volumes in just the 3 words alone “Just….Preach….Jesus”. Too many times I’ve heard preachers chase rabbits from the pulpit about opinions and denominations. This is a message that needs to be stressed to a lot of preachers in our day. Don’t focus on church politics, worldly influences or man’s opinions….Just Preach Jesus!
Daniel: I had the opportunity to be in the studio on tracking day, and when I heard this song, I thought it would be the big hit for sure. Though I revised my analysis slightly when I heard the final track, this is still one of the project’s strongest songs and would go over well both in radio and at concerts.
Brian: I like how the song takes its title and theme straight from scripture: the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Phillip opened the scriptures to Isaiah 53 and preached to him Jesus. What a great precedent! The second verse takes us directly to Acts 8, making this one a great candidate for my Songs from Scripture series.
Adam: Yes….this is a scripturally sound song and one of my favorites from the project!
Wes: This a return to straight ahead quartet style, and it’s probably placed in a good spot here after the “what was that??” factor of the previous song. The Kingdom Heirs have always excelled at singing straight ahead traditional quartet music, and this song is a good example.
12. We Will Stand Our Ground
Daniel: I’ll have to admit that this song didn’t blow me away the first time I heard it. But that’s only because I was on such a five-star song overload after songs 5-11 that I was tuning everything out! The album keeps building throughout, and this last track is no exception.
The second time I played through the song, I was paying attention. That time, I was so blown away by the power of the lyric—and the delivery—that I honestly ran out of words to describe it. “Monumental” came to mind, but somehow that didn’t seem strong enough. “An anthem for a generation of American Christians” was closer.
It took me weeks to come up with a term I think is fitting: This song is signature song caliber. This should be for the Kingdom Heirs what “Champion of Love” was for the Cathedrals, what “Midnight Cry” was for Gold City, and what “Four Days Late” was for Karen Peck and New River. This song has the confidence, authority, energy, and lyrical power of a breakout hit. It’s one of the strongest songs Dianne Wilkinson has ever written.
Brian: I too find myself loving this song more every time I hear it. I can see this being the song the Kingdom Heirs end every concert with as long as they exist. I’m excited to hear what it will sound like live, because to me the quartet voices get lost a little bit at the end amid the background vocals. But this song is about the lyrics, and this is one of the most powerfully relevant songs I can remember hearing. This is a message the world needs, and southern gospel music needs.
Adam: This is a good song, but I find myself skipping it on most plays. Vocal quality is top-notch, but this song reminds me of “Truth Is Marching On” which was recorded by what seemed to be every major SG group and run into the ground. I wasn’t a fan of that song and I’m not much on this one either. I prefer to hear the quartet sing and this song is filled with stacks and choir background vocals. This song is just too over the top for my tastes.
Wes: It’s interesting that they only recorded one ballad, and stuck it at the very end of the CD. It’s a great lyric, strong performance, though I’d have rather not had the choir backing up the group and just kept it as a quartet vocal only. My only concern is that with so many similar sounding songs in tracks 1-11, this song won’t have the listener’s full attention that it deserves. I don’t know that I agree with Daniel, I don’t think it’s quite up to “signature song” quality, but it’s a strong song, to be sure.
Brian: This is a very strong overall collection of songs, with really only one song that has me reaching for the skip button. Individually, Jeff Chapman turns in three of the best performances of his career in his feature songs, including what should be his signature song in “Where’s John?” Chapman shows off a terrific singing voice and huge low notes, a combination only rivaled today by Tim Riley himself. Individually, he’s the star of the project. The rest of the quartet don’t stand out much individually; Steve French has zero solo lines on the project, Jerry Martin only sings a solo verse once, and Arthur Rice handles the rest. But the quartet blend is as good as it’s ever been for the Kingdom Heirs, and might be the best in all of gospel music today.
The title track is the only slow-tempo song on the project, but there’s still enough variety of styles in the other songs to keep the listener on his toes. Really, almost every song on the project could go over very well on the radio, so it will be interesting to see the choices for singles. “Heaven Is My Goal” should be a big hit, and “We Will Stand Our Ground” is the showstopper. The rest of the songs are very even and enjoyable. I’ve been listening to the CD in my car for a while now, and have not had a desire to stop yet. We Will Stand Our Ground gets an easy 5 stars from me. Album rating: 5 stars.
Steve: Have we forgotten the kind of music the Kingdom Heirs can produce? I miss Arthur’s big power ballads. Songs like “Forever Changed” and “He Had To Rise” are missed on We Will Stand Our Ground. With the exception of the title track all other 11 songs are in the mid to up tempo range.
Strongest songs on the recording are “Heaven Is My Goal”, “Just Preach Jesus”, “It’s Real” and “No Bones About It”. Kingdom Heir fans will no doubt love this collection. I was expecting something more. Average song rating: 3.75 (of 5).
Adam: Since this is the first project with Jerry Martin, I knew that the Kingdom Heirs would have a different sound from all of their other recordings. I have long felt that Martin is the top SG tenor on the road and this CD is (hopefully) just the beginning of great things to come for the group.
There are some great songs on this project like “Heaven Is My Goal”, “It’s Real”, “Where’s John?” & “Just Preach Jesus”. The title track, while not one of my favorites, should be a great radio release for the group. After listening to this project several times, I feel it’s a great beginning for what I feel could be one of the greatest vocal lineups that SG has ever seen.
Steve French remains an underutilized member of the group as far as features are concerned and this project is evidence of that statement. I miss songs like “Now I Am On My Way To Heaven” where all parts are featured. Sure, the other three parts are fantastic in this group, but for me something seems to be missing. Maybe next time…
Overall, I think that this is a good CD from the Kingdom Heirs, but I am left longing for true ‘4-part’ harmony so I can’t give this CD a true 5 star rating. However, I am positive that anyone that listens to or buys this project will enjoy it. Album rating: 4.5 stars.
DBM: This is my favorite Kingdom Heirs CD in several years. The addition of Jerry Martin has given the Kingdom Heirs a “punch” on the top end, and we can always depend on Arthur Rice, but the real story here is Jeff Chapman. My quartet had the opportunity to open for the KHs several weeks ago, and he sounded HUGE that night. The studio did a great job capturing his energy for this CD.
It doesn’t bother me in the least that Arthur Rice and Jeff Chapman have the lion’s share of the features, or that this CD is slim on ballads. Those are the two guys I most wanted to hear, and I’ve never cared much for CDs that drag! Album rating: 5 Stars.
Aaron: After the release of When You Look At Me, the group’s previous project, I was left wanting something more, as that project was not my cup of tea. The song selection was overall unremarkable and did not quite measure up to the quality of True To The Call, in this blogger’s humble opinion. When the group announced the departure of tenor Billy Hodges and the subsequent hiring of Jerry Martin, my interest piqued for the next project. However, there was the underlying sense that the new lineup’s undoubtedly stellar vocals would be mired in ho-hum songs.
We Will Stand Our Ground delivered in every way.
Obviously, the biggest draw to this project for fans of the Kingdom Heirs is the aforementioned hire of Jerry Martin. Martin’s tones give the quartet a great boost; his is a more open sound than that of his predecessor, and his effortless higher range is given a workout on this project. Arthur Rice’s lead is given several great features, as is Jeff Chapman’s bass, which has developed into a well-oiled singing machine over the years. Baritone Steve French gets zero features throughout, but that did not occur to me until several listens through, proving how fine a job the others did. We Will Stand Our Ground is sure to go down as a career project for the Kingdom Heirs. Album rating: 5 stars
Wes: When you see a new CD by the Kingdom Heirs, you pretty much know what to expect. Traditional quartet singing that is performed well. This CD is no exception. There are 3 or 4 tracks that are standouts, especially “Heaven Is My Goal” and “It’s Real” that should leave the crowds at Dollywood begging for more. The addition of Jerry Martin skyrockets the potential of this vocal lineup. Martin fits the group like a glove, and his voice blends extremely well with that of Arthur Rice. Arthur Rice is basically a computer when it comes to lead singing, you know exactly what you’re going to get from him every time. Jeff Chapman really shines on this disc as well. This is a solid start, still, there seems to be some unfulfilled potential in this recording. Album Rating: 4 stars.
Brandon: I may be one of the only ones, but I am disappointed with this project. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I find much of the recording boring and too formulaic. It sounds too much like the group’s previous two CDs. When I first listened to this CD, in my mind I was matching songs from this project to songs from previous CDs. Of course, this may just be a case of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”
On the positive side, Jerry Martin adds a lot vocally to the group. That isn’t a slight towards Billy Hodges. Jerry would add a lot to any group. Also, this recording shows Jeff Chapman at his very best. I don’t think Jeff has ever sounded better.
Even though I’m disappointed, I will say this is a very good recording. Vocally, the Kingdom Heirs are one of the very best quartets in the business. Musically, I would have liked something that didn’t strike me as too similar to their older material. Album Rating: 4 stars
Daniel: This is the strongest collection of songs the Kingdom Heirs have released yet—for my individual song ratings, only three songs (two through four) got four stars, and the rest of the album was one five-star song after another.
The vocal and instrumental arrangements are solid enough that they would propel other projects to five-star status. But they’re not the stars of the show here; that distinction would certainly fall to the songs. The Kingdom Heirs have been criticized before for cutting mostly Dianne Wilkinson songs. But more than ever before, this is the album where that pays off. Ten of the twelve songs are written or co-written by Wilkinson, and it should be safe to say that she has never had a stronger bevy of cuts on a single project of new songs.
Oh, and Wes, I’ve never heard a singer compared to a computer before, and I imagine this is the first time that comparison has ever been made as a compliment! Average song rating: 4.8 stars (of 5). Album rating: 5 stars.