CD Review: Keep Travelin’ On (Chuck Wagon Gang)
Rating: 5 stars (of 5)
Average Song Rating: 4.5 stars (of 5)
Members: Julie Hudson (soprano), Penny Greene (alto), Stan Hill (tenor), Dave Emery (bass / guitar), Joe Rotton (bass guitar).
Song List: Keep Travelin’ On; He Wrote My Name; Keep the Fire Burning in the Camp; Light at the River; I’d Rather Have Jesus; Homecoming Day; I’m Telling the World About His Love; Singing As I Go; I Never Shall Forget the Day; We’re Gonna Rise Up (And Meet Him in the Air); My Dream Home in Glory; O Come Angel Band.
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Keep Travelin’ On is the Chuck Wagon Gang’s first studio release in several years. In fact, it had been long enough since they’d released a CD with their label, Song Garden Music Group, that at one point I mistakenly assumed they had left the label.
This project includes familiar CWG classics, several convention-style songs previously recorded but new to the group, and a number of new songs. Two particularly notable tracks are new songs from the pen of Rebecca Peck, “Singing as I Go” and “Keep Travelin’ On.” The latter is the project’s title track and first single. Both are such good fits for the group’s style that a casual listener, recognizing many of the project’s other songs as classics, would assume these were also old-school classics.
Other particularly notable arrangements include alto Penny Greene’s feature on “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” tenor Stan Hill’s feature on “Oh Come Angel Band,” and Greene’s feature on “We’re Gonna Rise Up and Meet Him in the Air,” a CWG classic penned by late group patriarch Roy “Dad” Carter.
Alto Shaye Seward came off the road two or three years ago and was replaced by current alto Penny Greene. Though she remains active with the group behind the scenes, since her departure from the touring group, there have been no children or grandchildren of the original members in group. But this lineup captures the group’s distinctive sound no well that it leaves no doubt that they are the Chuck Wagon Gang, not just some tribute lineup carrying on the heritage. In fact, with a project of this caliber, they add to the heritage.
I don’t give out 5-star ratings often. I write somewhere around fifty CD/DVD reviews per year, and since I typically give out five or fewer 5-star ratings, some might wonder why I give this project 5 stars and another project with more complex arrangements and vocals (say, the latest Perrys or Kingdom Heirs releases) 4 or 4.5 stars.
Here is why: When I rate a project, I consider this question: What would a perfect [group name] recording sound like? Groups anchored by a star performer can experiment with different styles so long as the familiar voices are featured, but the Chuck Wagon Gang is anchored by a specific style. Add a 64-piece orchestra, a complex MIDI drum loop, or a heavy synthesizer, and it just isn’t the Chuck Wagon Gang. This project gets five stars because the group took the stylistic parameters that define a Chuck Wagon Gang project and worked within those guidelines to make the best recording the group has released in years.