CD Review: 75 Years (Blackwood Brothers)
The first half 75 Years: The Song Will Go On is classic Blackwood Brothers songs with fresh tracks. The two standout tracks are the Neil Enloe-penned “The Joy of Knowing Jesus” (featuring tenor Wayne Little) and the classics medley (featuring bass Randy Byrd on most songs). This was the medley they performed at the 100 Years of Southern Gospel event hosted by Judy Nelon, eliciting a strong response.
On the second half of the project, the group offers its distinctive imprint on several new songs. The strongest two are both co-written by Marty Funderburk. “The Song Will Go On,” penned by Funderburk and Gina Boe, gives lead singer Jimmy Blackwood a chance to carry a big ballad. “Floatin’ on a Cloud,” co-written with Beverly Lowry, could easily pass for a far older track. Producers Michael Sykes and Billy Blackwood did an excellent job throughout, and on this track in particular, of giving the tracks and vocal arrangements a timeless feel. If you could dub Bill Shaw’s voice in its prime onto the tenor (feature) part on this song, you could probably convince casual listeners that the track itself dated from the early 70s. It’s that good.
Sykes does a magnificent job capturing the rich warmth of Randy Byrd’s bass vocal. (This would be in comparison to the Gaither Rock of Ages CD/DVD, where the recording was mixed or EQed to give his solo a drier sound.) Sykes also captures Jimmy Blackwood’s rich vibrato well. Billy Blackwood joined the group right before they went into the studio to cut vocals and was uncomfortable taking a feature, so his voice is only heard in a few brief passages. It seems Sykes wasn’t quite sure where to place Wayne Little’s voice; at points, Little offers a full vibrato (sounding like Jimmy, a third higher); at others, Sykes brings out a somewhat nasal tone. He brings out the best overall blend when he has Little singing a soft tenor below a power lead from Jimmy, such as on “There is a Refuge.”
Recordings of classic songs draw from the rich heritage of Southern Gospel music. Over the years, the Blackwood Brothers have invested enough into that heritage—including in the 1970s, when their current lead and baritone singers, Jimmy and Billy, were in the lineup—that they could afford to rest on their laurels. But just as recordings of classic songs draw from the heritage, recordings of new songs add something to that heritage. That is what the Blackwood Brothers do with 75 Years.
Group members: Wayne Little, Jimmy Blackwood, Billy Blackwood, Randy Byrd. ♦ Produced by: Michael Sykes, Billy Blackwood. ♦ Available from: Artist. Review copy provided. ♦ Song list: How About Your Heart; Everyday Will Be Sunday; His Hand in Mine; The Joy of Knowing Jesus; Medley (Give the World a Smile / Peace Like a River / God Made a Way / Learning to Lean / Lead Me To That Rock / I’ll Meet You in the Morning); Floatin’ on a Cloud; No Better Reason; There is a Refuge; The Journey’s End; The Song Will Go On; Everyday will be Sunday (reprise).