CD Review: Heritage Hymn Collection Vol. 1 (The Browns)

brownsAfter two previous reviews of Browns projects (Hope and A New Day), the Browns need no introduction here. At the risk of being redundant, for any new readers: The Browns are a family group from Iowa that has been on the national scene for several years now, with a steadily growing fan base. Their first several projects were produced by Roger Talley; with their last recording of new songs, they worked with Bubba Smith for the first time. Under Smith, known for producing CCM marquee acts like Point of Grace, Sandi Patty, and Petra, they tried a new sound on for size and found that it was a pretty good fit.

When a group goes from an ambitious project, pushing their sound in new directions, to a hymns table project, some might take that as an admission that the new sound either didn’t work out or was too much too fast for their fans. But that doesn’t appear to be the case here, since the project covers a broad range of styles and offers arrangements that are innovative without making unnecessary changes just for change’s sake.

“Standing On the Promises” features older son Adam and is arranged in a jazzy / big band style.

“I Sing the Mighty Power / Canon in D” features the children on their electric violins (or, at any rate, probably will in live concerts, though from the liner notes it appears as though daughter Michaela may have laid down all violin tracks in the studio). The arrangement, which was put together by Michaela, is an interesting mixture of the old and new, with string arrangements and keyboards combining for a driving arrangement with clear classical influences.

“I’ll Fly Away” also features the electric violins, and a vocal solo by younger son Andrew. He is vocal dynamite right now, one of the strongest child vocalists in Southern Gospel in recent years. If his voice can retain the same power once it changes, it may be the bankable power needed to take the group to a new level.

There are two acapella songs, arrangements of “In the Garden” and “Beulah Land.” The latter is a song they have done live (on their Live @ the Factory DVD), but put on CD for the first time.

Michaela turns in a strong rendition of “My Jesus, I Love Thee.”

Mother Shelly’s rich alto is a perfect fit for “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”; a duet with Adam on several lines in a verse is brilliantly executed and all too brief.

The project’s standout track, an a capella rendition of “Wonderful Grace of Jesus,” starts off sounding like pretty much every other rendition since the Cathedrals introduced a now-classic arrangement in the 1980s. Through the verses and first two choruses, they do the standard two counterpoint lines with harmonies.  A little over two minutes into the track, they break into three counterpoint lines, with vocal activity rivaling what a top quartet could pull off on “Heaven’s Joy Awaits” or “Getting Ready to Leave This World.”

Returning to an earlier comment, these arrangements are innovative without making unnecessary changes just for change’s sake. Far from being “just another hymns project,” this project helps establish the Browns as a serious player on the national level, as a group that can be creative and innovative even on a smaller table project-sized budget.

Rating: 4.5 stars. ♦ Average song rating: 4.1 stars. ♦ Group members: Shelly Brown, Michaela Brown, Adam Brown, Andrew Brown. ♦ Produced by: None credited. Executive Producers: Shelly Brown, Michaela Brown. ♦ Available from: The Browns. Review copy provided. ♦ Song list: Standing On the Promises; My Jesus I Love Thee; I Sing the Power / Canon in D; Cross Medley; When We All Get to Heaven; In the Garden; Wonderful Grace of Jesus; I’ll Fly Away; Beulah Land; Great Is Thy Faithfulness / Majesty.

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6 Letters to the Editor

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  1. I really like what I’ve heard so far from this group. They’re opening for Signature Sound in Shipshewana this Saturday—looking forward to seeing them. I hope they do “I Sing the Canon.” Phenomenal arrangement! Very impressed with Michaela’s rendition of “My Jesus I Love Thee” as well. She’s obviously had professional voice training. With her sweet, pure vocals and virtuoso violin powers, we could be looking at another Alison Krauss here.

    • I Sing the Canon? 😮 😛

      • 😉 Bit o’ shorthand…

  2. By the way, how come this group’s stuff is so hard to find? Except for this album, it’s impossible to find anything by this group from places like Amazon christianbook, and itunes. They’ve been around for a few years and garnered some award nominations—I would have thought they’d have better distribution by now.

    • They’re independent – not with a label.

      • Well all I can say is…SOMEBODY SIGN THESE KIDS—NOW!