CD Review: Hymns of the Homeland (Songfellows)
The Songfellows Quartet came to prominence as one of the West Coast’s most popular Southern Gospel groups. Under the leadership of Bob Jones Sr., who sang with the group into his nineties, the group was based in California. Now under the leadership of his son, Bob Jones Jr., the group is in the process of re-assembling an all-star cast.
Hymns of the Homeland came out in the middle of that transition; tenor Garry Sheppard was already on board, but former bass singer Mike Schlee was still at the bass slot. Nick Bruno, best known for his piano playing and producing, was singing baritone; he has since moved to the piano bench, with the addition of first Tony Peace and now Ed Hill at the baritone slot. Harold Gilley has returned to Southern Gospel as this group’s bass singer.
The soundtracks are a slight distraction; they sound as though they were converted from analog (i.e., cassette or similar technology). The vocals sound like they were recorded with more recent technology, but they don’t sound like they were mastered. However, that particular move may be intentional, because it does make them sound more authentic than the sometimes overdone studio perfection.
Several years back, there had been some discussion that Garry Sheppard’s voice was apparently out of shape. Whether or not that was true, it’s in shape now; though he doesn’t approach the stratospheric territory that distinguished his Kingsmen tenure, his mid and lower range is featured prominently on the album, to excellent effect. In fact, his solos are some of the album’s highlights: “Room at the Cross,” “Wonderful Peace,” and “Palms of Victory.”
Speaking of Palms of Victory, it is listed out of place in the packaging; it is listed at song 4 when it is really song 9. Move it down, adjust songs 5-9 up one place in the list, and then the list will be in order.
I was told that Harold Gilley was on “one or two” songs on the project; I’m guessing these are “In the Garden” and “Peace in the Valley,” both strong performances with Gilley-quality bass parts.
A project with these same four voices and same songs, but with a higher budget for soundtracks and mixing / mastering, would definitely get a higher rating than 3 stars (which, as “average,” is still a decent rating). So in a roundabout way, this project achieves what was probably part of its purpose, to reintroduce the Songfellows Quartet to Southern Gospel, and to whet our appetite for good things to come.
Rating: 3 stars. ♦ Group members: Garry Sheppard (tenor), Bob Jones Jr. (lead), Nick Bruno (baritone), Mike Schlee (bass). ♦ Produced by: None Credited. ♦ Available from: Artist. (EDIT: 8/5/2011: Broken link removed) Review copy provided. ♦ Song list: I Love to Tell the Story; Room at the Cross; Palms of Victory; Precious Memories; Tis So Sweet; In the Garden; Wonderful Peace; Just Over in Gloryland; Old Rugged Cross; Peace in the Valley; Amazing Grace; Just As I Am; Standing On the Promises.