CD Review: “Together” (Gaither Vocal Band and Ernie Haase & Signature Sound)
While I did feature an interview with Doug Anderson, Ryan Seaton, and Tim Duncan when the Together CD/DVD was released, I’ve been admittedly tardy on posting my thoughts on the product itself.
First, the basics: The CD contains fifteen songs; the DVD contains twenty-three (plus two bonus tracks). The CD is a studio project where both groups sing together on every song; on the DVD, which was recorded live, fourteen of the fifteen songs from the CD are performed live. (The only one that’s not, “Oh, What a Time,” was recorded by both groups together on Signature Sound’s self-titled DVD.) In addition to the songs performed together, each group does two on its own, Gordon Mote does a solo, and the groups do a few songs together not included on the CD.
If you can purchase only one of the two, purchase the DVD. While the CD has a fairly low proportion of uptempo songs (5 or 6 out of 15), the DVD has enough other fast songs, comedy, and special effects to make the end result stronger.
One of the CD/DVD highlights is the new arrangement of “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven.” Unlike most of the other songs on the project, this song has not to my knowledge been done before by either group or in the Homecoming Series.
“Blow the Trumpet in Zion” was done on Israel Homecoming (2005), but as a choral selection, not featuring any group. If you are one of the many Southern Gospel fans currently in a church that sings Praise and Worship music, and your mind has sometimes drifted during worship service to wondering what an Integrity / Hosanna! praise chorus would sound like if done by a quartet, with a solid bass part, this song should grab your attention. Throw in the Israeli feel on the instrumentation, and this song is beyond doubt the most unique song on the project.
A fan of traditional Southern Gospel music will probably find “Heaven’s Joy Awaits” the most interesting segment of the DVD. When Bill Gaither announces that the next song will be “out of the Southern singing convention genre,” he is greeted by dead silence from an otherwise enthusiastic audience. He does get a laugh for his recovery, when he says, “I can kinda sense the excitement building in the room.” But then he walks the audience through how a convention song is structured, adding one part at a time. By the time he actually launches the track, thanks in part to the demonstration and in part to the comedic contributions of Kevin Williams and Rory Rigdon, he has completely won the audience over. By the end of the song, audience reaction demands three or four encores; counting the introductory section with the demonstration of the different parts, the DVD version of this song ends up clocking in at approximately twelve minutes.
Somehow Gaither managed to take a song in a style that got no enthusiasm when announced to the song that got the biggest audience response all evening. Throughout his career, Gaither has always had an affection for classic Southern Gospel songs. While he has experimented with different sounds throughout his career, often with notable success, he has never forgotten the style of music that got him hooked.
The DVD closes with “These are They,” a song I consider to be the project’s strongest big ballad. Both groups sing the song together, with solos by Doug Anderson, Marshall Hall, Wes Hampton, and Guy Penrod. Oddly enough, Hampton (the Gaither Vocal Band tenor) has a verse in a lower key than Penrod’s verse, the climax of the song. Penrod demonstrates a remarkable range for a lead singer, singing high C with a lead singer’s voice quality. No matter who may fill the tenor and baritone slots, the Gaither Vocal Band will be a powerhouse group for as long as Penrod is a member.
The CD and DVD are top-notch products. Nobody knows what the future may hold for Southern Gospel, or whether the genre will ever see the same level of national exposure that it has seen through the Homecoming Series. But whatever the future may hold, for now at least, Southern Gospel can be proud that it still has a Gaither.
CD rating: Recommended.
DVD rating: Highly Recommended.