CD Review: “Vocalized” (The Ball Brothers)

The Ball Brothers made quite a splash with their debut project, getting an invitation to a Gaither Homecoming taping and becoming an opening act for Ernie Haase & Signature Sound’s Summer Spectacular Tour. When a group finds this level of success with a debut, many people closely watch to see whether their sophomore project can sustain that kind of momentum.

Knowing this, I was surprised by the Ball Brothers’ announcement that their sophomore project would be acapella. Some groups use acapella projects to fill the gap between releases that they hope will have a more serious impact. I can’t say how the Ball Brothers viewed this project, but I have to admit that if it is an interlude, it is one of the most interesting interludes I have encountered to date.

  1. “There is a Mountain.” This song really shines, due in part to a guest bass vocal by Darren Rust. The obvious question of how they will be able to duplicate this in a live setting may be answered by the addition of another brother, Josh Ball, to sing a fourth vocal part. Though he is not officially a bass, the bass runs in this song can be adequately performed by a low baritone.
  2. “He Set Me Free.” This arrangement changes the original Albert E. Brumley song enough that I had to check the liner notes to be certain it was the same song.
  3. “Of Thee I Sing.” This Dianne Wilkinson song was originally recorded by Greater Vision on The King Came Down (1993). For those who were first exposed to the Ball Brothers through their rendition of “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” and hoped that this acapella project would include another song in a similar style, this modern-day hymn fits the bill. It is one of the best songs on the project.
  4. “Lean on Me.” This song features a guest vocal by Marshall Hall, who produced the album. Hall is baritone for the Gaither Vocal Band, but was active in the studio world long before going on the road.
  5. “I’m Free.” I’m not quite sure why many groups near the Gaither Homecoming universe include a Gaither tune on each album. It could be totally random. It could be that his songs are so much a part of the Southern Gospel repertoire that it seems natural. Or–and this is totally off the wall–I suppose including and paying royalties on a Gaither tune would be a roundabout way of letting Gaither know how many albums you sold without actually telling him. (All right, I doubt that was the reason here, but sometimes my mind goes down strange avenues!) Whatever the reason, while including a Gaither tune is hardly obligatory, it’s a smart move for a group near the Gaither Homecoming universe.
  6. “Walkin’ in Jerusalem.” This is an interesting rendition of the spiritual. It’s actually an instrumental track, but since it has the same feel as the rest of the album, it doesn’t really stick out like a sore thumb. In fact, it blends in so well that I did not notice it was an instrumental track until my third time through the project.
  7. “I Sing the Mighty Power of God.” It was a smart move to include this song on the project, since their rendition of the Couriers’ arrangement (hat tip, JS) served as their introduction to a wider audience on Signature Sound’s self-titled DVD. While they may have recorded it before moving up to the big leagues, they didn’t have it on any project yet.
  8. “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” I have long thought that this classical selection would sound good in an acapella rendition such as this–a rendition that does not disappoint.
  9. “Good Livin’.” This song is not quite acapella, since (in addition to a drum track) it features a guest appearance on upright bass by Ben Isaac. Initially it did not grab my attention, but after multiple plays it stands out as one of the project’s highlights.
  10. “Sweet Beulah Land.” The Ball Brothers did an acapella rendition of this song when I saw them live in concert. Although this studio version does not capture the (apparent) spontaneity of the live rendition, it was a smart move to include it on the project

Vocalized is progressive, but not in the sense the term is typically used in Southern Gospel. Its innovative arrangements are solidly within the genre. They do not descend to the common fallacy of borrowing yesterday’s Contemporary Christian Music and calling it tomorrow’s Southern Gospel. This project achieves an uncommon feat by staying true to the genre while being completely unique.


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17 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. Great review Daniel.

  2. I second that.

  3. I really enjoy there new CD!!!

  4. They do not descend to the common fallacy of borrowing yesterday’s Contemporary Christian Music and calling it tomorrow’s Southern Gospel.

    Great line, Daniel…and I couldn’t have summarized what today’s so-called “progressive” Southern Gospel is any better if I’d tried.

  5. Thanks, John! I worked and worked on that line, and I’m kind of pleased with the result. It sums up exactly how I feel about “progressive” SG. In fact, I held the review until I had that last paragraph exactly where I wanted it! 🙂

  6. Progressive SG doesn’t borrow YESTERDAY’S contemporary Christian music. It borrows any style of TODAY.

    Your dislike of progressive is showing again. LOL

  7. Thanks for this review, Daniel! This was a long-awaited project and I have yet to get my copy, so it was nice to read your take. I think the Ball Brother’s strength lies in acappella because it shows how well they really can SING – with or without tracks.

  8. Hannah, you have a good point. To me, every group shows their strength when they are doing either (a) something acapella or (b) something with just a piano and no tracks.

    I like the other kinds of accompaniment–a lot–but I also love it when a group slows things down for a song or two and shows what they can do without all the bells and whistles!

  9. My feelings are mixed about this cd, but let me just say that I liked songs like “I’m Already Living Forever” from their debut project much better. Some songs like “Good Livin'” off of this project sounded like they were straight off (ironically) the contemporary Keith Lancaster vocal projects of yesterday (1990’s). In fact, I’ve actually heard the Lancaster rendition and it is very similar. The project is enjoyable, but undeniably progressive. Good review though.

  10. Upon a second listening to this cd right now my first impression is actually changing somewhat. I would now say that this project is mostly SG a capella with a few progressive songs/angles. Possibly not as progressive as I first thought. How’s that for changing opinions?

  11. Not bad! Now listen a third time and see if you agree (mostly) with my review above!

  12. (chuckle) So far I’m sticking with the SG acapella with a slightly progressive slant theory.

  13. This bring up a question: how many of yesterday’s contemporary hits ARE we hearing on SG radio today??
    How about:
    1–Redeemer (Ivan Parker and Wyanonna Judd. Why in the world am I hearing her live version on a Southern Gospel station anyway?)
    2–Orphans Of God (Talley Trio)
    3–There’s No God Like Jehovah- I know that’s not the name, but is should be since that line is repeated so much in one song.
    4–We Bless Your Name
    (both by the LeFever Quartet. The latter I heard for the first time last night)
    5–Shout To The Lord (Lordsong cut it on their “Soulfood” release.)
    6– Long As I Got King Jesus (BF&A- Ok, this is more in the realms of Black Gospel than contempoary or praise and worship.)
    The following is my opionion- this is a generaralization of the ‘trends’ today and NOT a reference to the Ball Brothers’ project. I have not heard it so I can’t evaluate it yet.
    Yes Susan,you are right. Progressive SG can’t be catagorized as covers of yesterday’s contemporary songs. But there are enough of those songs that this topic deserves mention and discussion.

    But, here’s where we disagree. I respect your opionion and I trust you’ll respect my differing one.
    I personally feel that the majority of progressive SG songs are ones that should have been left alone, ONLY BECAUSE so many are overly repetitive. I, for one, don’t need someone to sing one line 15 times for me to get the point. That turns me away from a song faster than anything else.
    Yes, some people like very repetitive songs, but I perfer music with a progressing doctrinal theme- something that does not get ‘stuck’ on one idea. I’d rather hear some ‘meat’ and ‘depth’ in the lyrical message of the song than someone repeating something again and again and again.

  14. Quaid,

    I agree to an extent. Many re-makes leave a lot to be desired. But I see groups re-making some of these songs as an attempt to reach a larger audience. With the average SG concert attendance being 200 or less, I can see their desire to broaden their audience using any means possible. One of those means is offering songs that are recognized by other genres. Thus a re-make or a cover.

    My only suggestion: Do it well! Don’t just copy.

  15. Absolutley, do as good as the original version or surpass it.

  16. Daniel what a awesome review,well written! Especially the line ‘They do not descend to the common fallacy of borrowing yesterday’s Contemporary Christian Music and calling it tomorrow’s Southern Gospel’…describes a feeling that i had…but couldn’t adequately express…u just did! Great group of guys The Ball Bros and a great album imho.

    Auke

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