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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.