CD Review: Lifetime (Mark Trammell Quartet)

Lifetime - Mark Trammell QuartetMost of the time, when a Southern Gospel group records an album of hymns and classic songs, it is a low-budget project with simple arrangements, basic soundtracks, predictable song selection, and no unifying theme. Lifetime is a shining exception to the rule.

Let’s start with the arrangements. Yes, Lari Goss brought his golden touch to the orchestrations. No, that doesn’t mean that the album is overloaded with slow anthems. In fact, four of the strongest tracks—”Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” “Way Past Ready,” “Wonderful Time Up There,” and “Meet Me Over on the Other Side”—are fast or at least on the fast side of mid-tempo.

The instrumental and vocal arrangements are fresh and creative. Mark Trammell could have been forgiven for reviving the unforgettable arrangement of “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” that he helped popularize fifteen years ago with Gold City. But he doesn’t; a prominent syncopated bass gives the track a distinctly different feel. Pat Barker’s bass solos are also remarkable; who would have thought of handing a bass singer songs that are traditionally a tenor solo (“Touring the City,” Archie Watkins’ signature song) and a soprano solo (“We Shall Behold Him,” Sandi Patty’s first signature song)?

Of course, though, Goss and Trammell are smart enough to avoid the trap of being different just to be different. Pat Barker’s feature on “Wonderful Time Up There” doesn’t stray far from previous versions. But it didn’t have to, because the track and vocals are executed with a precision and flair that makes this track the finest recorded version of the song to date. 

That’s not the only song that stays close to earlier versions but turns in the definitive version with a better execution. What Lari Goss did with the arrangement of “The King is Coming” is exactly what you would expect him to do with the song. But it’s a fastball that Mark Trammell, who has the solo, swings and hits into the stratosphere. 

As always with a full-budget Lari Goss project, there are a number of hymn bridges. It’s hard to pull off a hymn bridge that adds more than it detracts and distracts (see here), but several—”Footprints of Jesus” with “Where He Leads, I’ll Follow,” “Too Much to Gain to Lose” with “We Shall Behold Him,” and the whole “Garden City Tour Medley”—are quite effective. The only one that flows less smoothly than one might desire is the “I’m Free” pairing with “The King is Coming.”

New lead singer Nick Trammell joined part of the way through the recording process. He does not have any solo vocals, though his voice is a solid presence in the mix whenever the arrangement calls for the lead singer to anchor the quartet harmonies. Meanwhile, veterans Eric Phillips (tenor), Mark Trammell (baritone), and Pat Barker (bass) each turn in some of their career-strongest vocal performances.

In the booklet, Mark Trammell offers extensive autobiographical liner notes, tying each song on the album into his life story. Priceless details make this collection far greater than the sum of its parts. Just to name two: “Footprints of Jesus” was a song he sang with his brothers at the first revival he ever remembers attending, and “We’ll Tour the Golden City” was one of the songs he played with when learning to play bass guitar—and co-producer Lari Goss’s first orchestration!

Lifetime demonstrates the Mark Trammell Quartet’s diversity. Two of their previous three albums—Always Have a Song (2008, reviewed here) and Treasures (2011, reviewed here)—received five-star ratings on this site. The former was an album of new songs; the latter, a classics project with simpler, piano/bass/percussion-based arrangements. This album is of an entirely different variety—a lushly orchestrated album stylistically reminiscent of Greater Vision’s landmark Hymns of the Ages album, but with the added richness that a bass vocal adds to male harmonies. It turns out that the Mark Trammell Quartet is equally adept in this setting. 

Lifetime is a five-star album, and joins The Talleys’ Love Won as one of the two strongest albums released this year.

Traditional or Progressive: Middle-of-the-road / fully-orchestrated.

Credits: Group members: Eric Phillips (tenor), Nick Trammell (lead), Mark Trammell (baritone), Pat Barker (bass). Produced by Lari Goss and Mark Trammell.

Song List: Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah; ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus; Way Past Ready; Garden City Tour Medley; Too Much to Gain to Lose; Meet Me Over on the Other Side; Footprints of Jesus; I Sing the Mighty Power; The King is Coming Medley.

Average song rating: 4.5 stars.

Rating: 5 stars.

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16 Letters to the Editor

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  1. Right there with ya, brother.

    • Thanks! 🙂

    • Is it getting crowded? 😉

      • This is so new that few readers have heard it yet!

  2. I absolutely agree! I picked this CD up when they were at Silver Dollar City a couple weeks ago and have listened to it a ton! It is fantastic!

  3. Thanks Daniel for the wonderful review. We are all very proud of the hard work that went into this 1 1/2 year process. I also want to mention the hard work that Dustin put into the vocals. He was there every step of the process and was invaluable to the album. Hope to see you all at NQC!!

    • Thanks! There were definitely points through the album where I listened and thought, “Sounds like Dustin had a hand in that!” (In a good way!)

  4. Is it officially out, or just in pre-release form? Will it be officially released at NQC? We can’t wait until we get a copy….will be looking for an opportunity!

    • I don’t know if it’s in stores, but the full CD (with artwork etc.) is available on their table and has been for a couple of weeks.

  5. I picked a ton of cds up at NQC but this one and Treasures are my absolute favorites. Unbelievable!! And you are right Daniel, Pat is a nice guy and one of the top basses out there

  6. I love the Mark Trammell Quartet and I agree with most of your review, Daniel. But I do take exception to your statement that “Wonderful Time Up There” is “the finest recorded version of the song to date”. In my humble opinion that honor would have to go to the Cathedrals and especially George in their rendition of that song on the album “You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet” released in 1979. I’ve never heard anyone do it better than George.

    • JB, I have that Cathedrals album, and love it. However, have you actually heard this new rendition? It would be worth hearing it for yourself, because Pat just might win you over.

      Just for the record, the Cathedrals were the group that convinced me to be a Southern Gospel fan, and I consider George to be the finest bass singer our genre has ever known. But on a single song here and there, you will occasionally find me saying that someone else has the definitive version – once they’ve earned it. 🙂

      • I understand, Daniel, and I’ll admit I haven’t heard Pat’s rendition yet but when I do I’ll let you know. 🙂 That CD is on my wish list right now and I can’t wait to hear it!

      • This is how good the arrangement and performance are: I’ve never particularly liked the song itself, but it’s still my favorite cut on the project.

  7. Finally got around to keeping my word, Daniel! I have the Lifetime CD and really like it, but I will stick with my previous comments about the song “Wonderful Time Up There” – nothing against Pat – he is a great bass. Also, have you ever heard that song by the Plainsmen Quartet on the album by the same name? Jay Simmons does a terrific job on that song and that particular album is one of my all time favorites.

    • Fair enough. Pat would probably be with you on preferring George’s. And, in retrospect, maybe I should have just said that it was a tie and left it at that! 🙂