Guest Post: CD Review: A Man Like Me by Wes Hampton

This is a guest post from NewSoGoFan.

Wes Hampton is the reason I (NewSoGoFan) am a gospel music fan today, and it all started with Steve Green. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Flashback to fall of 2009. I’m sitting in a waiting room and pick up a Gaither Homecoming magazine, which happens to be the GVB Reunion issue. At this point, I know practically nothing about the Gaither Vocal Band or gospel music. But I’m immediately engrossed by the personal glimpses into the individual members’ lives. I am surprised to discover that Steve Green, one of my musical heroes, was a member of the group. As I read on, I come across what Wes had written about the experience of getting to meet Steve at the reunion. Even though I didn’t register Wes’s name, the story stuck with me because it was just so cool. “I gotta remember that kid,” I thought.

Fast-forward to January-ish of 2010. I’m on a Steve Green kick, and I’m really digging into his repertoire in-depth for the first time. While daisy-chaining on Youtube, I come across a video entitled “Wes Hampton sings with Steve Green.” A little bell rings, and I wonder, “Could that be the young guy I read about in that magazine? Let’s check it out.” And I did. And I was blown away. I couldn’t believe how good Wes was—to stand there toe-to-toe with Steve and more than hold his own.

That video was the starting-point for further daisy-chaining as I discovered the Gaither Vocal Band. Wes’s powerful delivery on “A Place Called Hope” from Give It Away made it one of the first gospel songs to really catch my ear. Eventually I found my way to some videos from the Reunion, and that sealed it for me. I had officially become a southern gospel fan. From there the rest is history.  I discovered other great singers like Guy Penrod and Ernie Haase, to say nothing of great singers of the past, like Glen Payne. But it was Wes who opened the door.

So, it was with great pleasure that I took up the task of reviewing his first solo album for this blog. After becoming a fan of Wes, I began wanting to hear even more of him than I was hearing from his work with the vocal band. Apparently others have wanted the same. So Wes has offered up this project in reply. I think his fan-base will be more than happy with what they find. Without further ado then, let’s take a look at the album itself. First, let’s look at…

The songs: Wes said in an interview that when he began getting the demos for these songs, it was the lyrics that really struck a chord with him. And in some cases, like  “Sweet Surrender,”  he read just the first couple lines and instantly decided that he wanted the song, just for the message in those few words. After even one listen through the album, it’s obvious that Wes placed the lyrics front and center. I will resist the temptation to quote copiously from multiple numbers, but I will simply say that these are powerfully written songs. Virtually all of them are well-crafted, thoughtful pieces that manage to avoid common CCM cliches. The title track is particularly strong in the lyrics department, a refreshingly honest self-portrait that may cause some soul-searching on the listener’s part:

A man like me
Says one thing and does another
A man like me
Holds a grudge against his brother
A man like me
Thinks a promise can be broken
Just as easy as a glass on the floor…

But in the words of the chorus, there is “hope for everyone,” because God’s arms reach “even for a man, for a man like me.”

After a glance at the writers’ names, I wasn’t particularly surprised to see that Cindy Morgan was a contributor on one of the album’s most poignant lyrics, “Find Me.” Faithfully following the principle that good things usually happen wherever Cindy Morgan is involved in the writing process, this song is sure to leave a lump in some throats, particularly parents’. A sample:

Find me in the little things
When life is turning upside down
Find me playing in the yard
Cheering on my boys’ touchdown

Find me when I want to run
And I’m afraid to face the dark
When I’m brave enough to think that I can light the world
With just one spark…

Another lyrical gem is “Heal the Wound,” to which prominent singer/songwriter Nichole Nordeman contributed. This song recalls some of her own better moments and is a deeply thought-provoking look at grace—and remembrance. “Heal the wound,” it asks, “but leave the scar.” This is a profound truth—we need the scar to remind us of God’s redeeming love and our unworthiness. Powerful stuff:

I have not lived a life that boasts of anything

I don’t take pride in what I bring
But I’ll build an altar with
The rubble that you found me in
And every stone will sing
Of what you can redeem…

“If Sunday Had Not Come” stands out on the album because of its slightly “darker” sound. A minor-key piece, it simply asks the question, “What if Sunday had not come?” Interestingly, it leaves it at a question with no resolving answer—yet that feels right somehow. This is another piece that should provoke some thought.

Probably the album’s most powerful moment is a cover of the recent worship song “Jesus Saves.” Co-penned by David Moffitt and Travis Cottrell, it’s already been covered in southern gospel by the Lefevre Quartet. Not having heard LQ’s studio version, I cannot offer a fair comparison of these two versions. However, I can say that I absolutely love Wes’s version. I had not heard the song before hearing it on this project, and the power of the lyric absolutely knocked my socks off. The flow of the poetry is so natural, so right, and more,  fresh. Worship music tends to suffer from sloppily crafted lyrics full of endlessly recycled cliches. This lyric is not only technically excellent and correct, but it is stuffed with rich doctrine. And Wes delivers it to perfection, ending on a high note worthy of David Phelps.

And of course, I could not leave a discussion of the songs without mentioning the closer, a studio cut of “It is Well” with Steve Green. I was elated when I found out they were getting into the studio to do this, because (as I talked about in my introduction) the video of their duet had started everything for me. Vocally, this arrangement appears to be pretty much identical to the live performance. The accompaniment is kept very simple and lush—a piano and a cello. But it’s absolutely perfect (then again, you can’t expect any less when Gordon Mote and John Catchings are in the same package). Although the polished studio version lacks some of the raw energy and power of the live performance, it is pure pleasure to listen to and is probably my favorite track on the entire album. Steve and Wes have a truly lovely blend, and their treatment of this classic hymn may be the best I have ever heard.

Now let’s move on to…

The sound:
Stylistically, this album is much more CCM than SG. In fact, I could hear many of these tracks being played on my local CCM station. Whether or not listeners think that’s a good thing will depend on their own personal preferences. Honestly, I would say it works better in some cases than others. Sonically, some of the up-tempo tracks (e.g. “One Day,” “Hands,” “New Day,” title track) seem to run together, because they share that trademark blend of drums/electric guitars that defines the CCM sound. This means that even though the lyrics are above-par pretty much everywhere, the style in which they are couched is sometimes a distraction.

However, this is not always the case. The gorgeously lush piano strains of “Because of Love” set off the tender lyric beautifully with a rich chord progression, moving from minor to major to minor and finally ending in major. “If Sunday Had Not Come” is also piano-driven and is set to a distinctive, hauntingly lovely waltz tempo that stays with you long after the music ends. The confessional “Sweet Surrender” is particularly sparing, led by the elegantly simple sounds of an acoustic guitar. And as already noted, “It is Well” features nothing more than piano, cello, and a little percussion. “Heal the Wound” packs somewhat more punch but still relies on a largely acoustic backbone of guitar and piano, complementing rather than intruding upon the powerful lyric. “Jesus Saves” of course gets a soaringly anthemic treatment, but it takes its time to build and only really explodes at the climax.

The fact that the project’s most effective moments tend to come where “flesh-and-blood” instruments are being used indicates that Wes might do well to consider a somewhat more stripped-down approach in the future—peel back the electric guitars and leave the piano, acoustic guitar, etc. to speak for themselves. And yes, I admit that I’m an acoustic nut (see this review if you really want to plumb the depths of my acoustic nuttiness) but in my opinion, lyrics are best communicated when they are not fighting to be heard. For his faster material, I could definitely see Wes successfully working with the kind of down-to-earth, folk-rock sound displayed in the early work of an artist like Bebo Norman (his album Ten Thousand Days shows this style at its best).

And finally, a word on…

The vocals: Wes has definitely matured as a vocalist since he first began singing with the GVB, and this album shows it. In my opinion, this is some of his best vocal work so far. He shows excellent versatility, communicating a quiet ballad like “Sweet Surrender” and a sweeping epic like “Jesus Saves” with equal ease. “Jesus Saves” is particularly impressive because the first part of the song showcases a richness in Wes’s lower register that he rarely gets to display, while the climax has him soaring through the roof with a high B natural in full voice. And of course, he delivers his performance on “It is Well” to perfection, once again displaying the fullness his voice has acquired over time and experience.

However, I feel once again that the CCM style is a bit of a hindrance in some places, because not every song on here really shows what he can do vocally. The fact that he sounds most in his element when delivering something like “Because of Love” or “It is Well” indicates that this kind of pure gospel or inspo style would enable him to harness the full extent of his vocal capabilities and would just be a better fit all round. I’d love to see him go further with this style and perhaps even cover an old Imperials song or two on a future project—like “One More Song For You” or “I’d Rather Believe In You.” And some good old-fashioned southern gospel singin’ sure wouldn’t hurt either.  To put it in a nutshell, Wes is a singer’s singer, but even singers’ singers need to have a classic style for their voices to reveal themselves in full splendor.

Conclusion: There’s no question that Wes is one of the finest young tenors in gospel music today (Steve Green himself told me Wes was “amazing” when I saw him in concert last May). His voice is warm, tender, vibrantly youthful, clear as a bell and just plain beautiful. Although this album could have been better, it is an impressive first effort. Wes fans will want it because it’s Wes, but everybody should find something to like here. Wes wanted the lyrics to be the main focus and definitely accomplished this goal. Hopefully he will keep this focus on future projects while simultaneously refining his musical approach so as to complement the lyrics even better. Meanwhile, this project has enough gems to be worth having on its own merits.


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58 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! I can’t say that I disagree with anything in this review… 🙂 I got to meet Wes at NQC and he really is a great guy as well as a great singer. You can tell that he is really proud of this effort, and he should be!

    • I’d love to meet him some day! He’s got such a great spirit about him when he sings—very heartfelt, honest, and humble.

      • Oh he is every bit of that and more…

  2. Thank you for the review. I absolutely love Wes’s voice and I love this CD. All the songs are great, plus he is so very nice.

  3. I love this CD. Wes has an awsome voice. I first heard him in Tampa, Fla 5 years ago. He sang I’ll Tell it wherever I Go. I’ve been to many concerts since. He is a very sweet, humble young man, and means every word he sings. I’m so very proud of him. Thanks for the review.

    • He does have an awesome voice, and you are welcome! 🙂

  4. I love Wes’ new CD & even my 8 year old daughter asks me to play it in the car- which is impressive! I was instantly hooked on Wes when I saw the South Africa DVDs- some of Wes’ BEST performances ever! Hope he comes to Nebr. soon!!!

    • Yes! I completely agree, both “There Is a River” and “When God Dips His Love” are incredible!

  5. I love the CD. I was lucky enough to host Wes in early Sept at our church. From the moment we picked him up from the air port until we took him back the next day, he was a great example of what God wants from all of us. He not only talks (or should I say sings) the talk but he walks the walk…in love and grace. What a blessing to have met him and to have been able to add this CD to my collection.

  6. Wes is one of the GREATEST tenors and one of the most AWESOME gospel friend I know. I have met him several times at the GVB concerts and last year in Florida with Marsh Hall. I’ve gotten to know him personally and he lives just like he sings, “Godly”! He is a blessing to all he meets and I love the song he sings… “I Will Go On”. This song has helped me thru my time of trials and I thank him for it!
    I look forward to seeing him in many more concerts and talking to him again as a great friend!
    Your review was spot on I LOVE his new CD!

    • Thank you for stopping by. I really appreciate hearing from people like you and Mary, who’ve actually gotten to know Wes personally—it is so good to know that the singers you love are really walking the talk!

  7. This is one of the first reviews I have read that is actually balanced and accurate – maybe a little eccentric but nonetheless accurate 🙂 Wes’ music has helped me TONS – especially his song “I Will Go On.” I totally agree with you that his voice was a little inhibited on this album. He has more in there – I am sure of it! BUT, it was wonderful for a first album and he should be totally proud of it. He blesses me in the fact that he doesn’t get out there and turn the show on himself. He really does have a heart for God unlike most christian artist who are really in it for themselves. Thanks Wes – and thanks NewSoGoFan for your great review!

    • Well… thank you! I think. 😀 No really, I am very eccentric, so I’m sure that came out in the review. 🙂

      I like that about Wes too—it’s not all about him, and he knows it. Most refreshing.

      • Don’t feel bad about being eccentric…from what I have seen live of Wes, he is slightly dramatic himself 🙂 One other thing I forgot to say – it is AWESOME that he sang with his wife!!! So sweet, and she has a beautiful voice that blends well with his. So great that he isn’t hiring some famous female to do his backups – he’s keeping it close to heart and home. You know, tell me if you don’t agree but I think that in some ways, although technically speaking he doesn’t have all the experience and perfection, I feel like he passes a lot of famous people up, Michael English, Guy Penrod, Marshall Hall; NOT to take away from their talent, but he has such a different spirit and the feeling he puts into it is so amazing. It goes right to your soul! Ok I’m probably the eccentric one 🙂

      • Yes, she does sound good with him! I think he may have had one or two other female voices in the backup vocals in places, but Andrea does a great job.

        Well I guess it depends on what you mean by “passing” them. Vocally, I actually prefer Wes to both Michael English and Marshall Hall. I do however think that Guy has both the amazing voice and the spirit you were talking about. I definitely get the “straight to the soul” feeling when Guy starts singing!

      • Yeah I guess I agree on Guy. Especially watching the youtube video of him singing Worthy The Lamb, GVB. But as much as I have meant everything I’ve said about Wes, I have to say David Phelps still holds my heart across the board. I am a singer/ musician myself and know what good music is. Give Wes a few years at the rate He’s going and he’ll be there, but DP is the absolute ultimate in any genre. (Except country…might be not so cool with that 🙂 )

      • David is crazy good, but I’d still rather hear Wes. It’s a style thing. 🙂

  8. I would rather hear Wes too. Of course David is good, but I just think Wes has the more beautiful voice. I don’t know- just like the sound of his voice better.

    • David’s voice can be very beautiful, but the problem is that he embellishes it too much. If he would just let the natural beauty of his voice speak for itself instead of constantly changing it up with dramatic flourishes and ruffles, it would be a different story.

      Wes, on the other hand, just sings the note, clearly and simply. I like that.

  9. I do agree that Wes’ voice is much clearer than David’s – it has more of a ring to it. David’s is breathier or something, but the notes he can soar on top of are amazing. I appreciate most of his embellishments because they display the control he has over his voice. He can pour it out like water in any range. I hope to see Wes get a little braver and experiment with different things with his voice. And Wes could never sing Italian like David – I’m Italian and love to hear my language sung right!!

    • Meanwhile, David’s enunciation is sometimes not all that clear on English, so…

      …I think all three of us prefer David on the Italian songs, and Wes on English songs.

      (That’s most of them.)

      😛

      😆

      • On the Italian thing… I shared David’s version of “Nessun Dorma” with a family member once who said that David should stay away from any true opera lover who owns a hunting rifle. I’m sure there’s a price on his head even as we speak (*click*).

        ROFLOL! 😛

  10. LOL! Yes, true if your version of “heartthrob” opera music is Pavarotti! Okay, awesome on the vibrato, but where is the romance?? An um…have you listened to most artists lately? You can’t understand anything! I always have to look up lyrics to Michael English, etc. I have to admit I used to wonder if David was foreign. 🙂 I don’t know, I just love his range and feeling.

    • LOL! I assume you must be a Josh Groban fan too… but real opera singers think Josh needs to take lessons! 😛

  11. No, I am no Josh Groban fan. I actually never claimed to be an opera fan – I am not! But when David sings opera, then I am for that moment. Have you HEARD Pavarotti sing Nessun Dorma?? I don’t know if you know the lyrics or not but it’s a very romantic song and I believe David would win the princess’ heart – NOT Pavarotti if they were in a singing contest :-O

    • 😆 😆 😆

      • Have to say though, I just watched David’s performance of “You Are My All in All” on Giving Thanks, and it is pretty stinkin’ awesome… doesn’t hurt that the arrangement is sublime of course. And I think David did better live than in the studio—he knocked off some of the frills for a cleaner sound.

  12. Wes’ rendition of “Jesus saves” is outstanding and might be worth the price of the album.

    • Yeah. That’s what I thought too. Incredible vocal. I think I prefer the production/arrangement on some other renditions I’ve heard, but vocally nobody’s done what Wes does with this song.

  13. Okay, sorry guys, I just bought David Phelps “Best of” album. Oh MY GOODNESS!! He absolutely blows me away. I have been doing Brett Manning’s Singing Success and thus listening to ALOT of music lately. I put Wes’s album in yesterday and had forgotten what he sounded like. BOOOO to anyone who tries to tell me David isn’t absolutely awesome! Wes has anointing but I am such a sucker for high, controlled, soul feeling singing.

    • *shrugs shoulders*

      David is incredible. Wes is incredible. Let each be each. I think it’s pretty funny though—here I’m doing a review of Wes’s side solo project, and we’re STILL getting comparisons with David. Good grief! Let Wes shine for just a moment!

  14. Well that’s your opinion. Why in the world must Wes and David always be compared? Why can’t you just enjoy both of them? Let Wes be Wes and David be David. Wes has a GORGEOUS voice and I could listen to him sing all day long!

  15. Totally ADORE this young man. Wes is one in a million!

    • Yep. He’s a keeper. 😉 Not only does he have the voice, but he has that ultra-clean-cut image that makes you go, “Who is that guy?” when you see him in a group. He stands out in more ways than one.

  16. If you are an admirer of great siniging ability, you undoubtedly know that David and Wes are both incredible, each with a unique gift. In my opinion, comparing the two of them is not an “apples to apples” comparison. While they sing the same part, they each use their respective talent to communicate different songs in different ways. I think Bill does an admirable job facilitating this. I had the opportunity to see this in action this weekend in Saginaw, and honestly I believe that this is demonstrated on the projects that the 5-man GVB lineup has released thus far. Each one of them has a signature song or two, not because they always sing it, but because of how profoundly iIt is communicated (at least that’s how I feel :)…Let Freedom Ring is David’s song, not because he can blare C#’s any better than Wes, but for how he brings the lyric to life. To me, the same can be said for Wes on He Is Here….That song is perfect for Wes’ voice, not because of the vocal range, etc, but his ability to make you feel like “you can touch Him” (God), as the lyric says. That is what is so poignant about the GVB for me. No matter the lineup, Bill has always done a fabulous job utilizing the talent of each member to get the message across. Let’s simply enjoy the fact that these two amazing singers are in the SAME group at the SAME time, which will be something to remember when this lineup is no longer together (hopefully that never happens though)! While I’ve always been partial to David as my favorite, Wes has grown so much since he joined in 05, and has quickly become an absolute vocal monster. If you’ve ever had a chance to hear him sing the first verse to Because He Lives at the end of a Homecoming concert when he sings some of the verse in falsetto, and then blasts it out in a perfect mix, you know what I mean….”WE CAN FACE UNCEEEEEEEERTAIN DAYS……”

    Now that’s off my chest, back to the original topic, Wes’ solo album is excellent, and I hope he does more. “Jesus Saves” is the moment for me. Congrats to Wes, and looking forward to many years of he and David (and Mike and Mark and Bill) doing great things together, for OUR enjoyment!

    • Likewise, and amen! Except you might have spoken truer than you know when you said, “When this group is no longer together.” With Bill, “when” is probably a better bet than “if.” 😉

      • Haha, as a longtime GVB fan, I’m sure that the lineup will inevitably change. I’ve come to accept that. I’m just enjoying everything these 5 guys are doing right now. So unique, and so fun to watch. I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to have seen this group live a few times now. Each of them are so talented in similar, yet different ways. When they get together, something really cool happens!

      • I love what Mark Lowry said in a comedy routine back in the mid-90s. The audience was saying Mark’s line, and Mark said, “You’ll be in the group next year. It revolves.” 😆

      • I remember that. I was surprised more people did not when all these changes came about.

  17. Thank you CS. What you said is absolutely true. I am not downing Wes AT ALL!!! He is incredible! Perhaps it is my tendency to focus on the technicalities of the music more than the soul which is what it is all about. I just got GVB’s Greatly Blessed album and heard He Is Here and it brought me to tears not only because of the wonderful vocals on it but mainly because of the life and reality Wes breathed into the song.
    Your post put it all into perfect balance. Thank you – and thank you GVB, Wes, David for sharing your talent and faith with all of us!

  18. As far as I’m concerned, the best vocal group Bill ever had was Guy, Wes, Marshall and himself. They blended perfectly. Really love Wes!!!

    • That’s the way I feel too. Just doesn’t get any better than Wes, Guy & Marsh…and of course Bill.

  19. wes is one of the greatest singers. I heard him five years ago in Tampa, Fla. Have been to many of the concerts. I love his awsome voice, and his new CD is awsome. I’ve bought 7 of them so far. what a blessing each song is. We’re going to see the GVB at the Strawberry Festival March 5th. I can’t wait. Wes if you every read this, Gods richest blessings on you and your beautiful family. Love all of you.

  20. does anyone know the chords of Wes’ songs like a man like me and sweet surrender?

    • I’m afraid it would be against the copyright law to post them here, if someone does know them. But I do wish you success on finding them!

      • All of Wes’s lyrics are on his personal site.

      • I don’t think that includes chord charts, though.

      • Oh, I misread the question, sorry! Well, if you listened to the song and figured out what the chords were for yourself, why would it be a violation of copyright to post them?

      • Umm, because (I assume) the song is under copyright.

      • But chords aren’t under copyright. What I mean is, posting a tutorial for a song where you’re playing guitar or whatever and just showing people how it’s done is different from ripping the song itself and giving it away publicly, right?

      • The chord of C and the note of E-flat are not under copyright. A particular arrangement of chords and notes into a song is, though.

        I think I finally realized the aspect that may not be obvious to you: A singer’s performance of a song can be and usually is copyrighted. But the song itself can be and usually is also copyrighted. A particular arrangement of words, notes, and chords into a song is what is covered by the latter copyright. Posting them publicly without permission is a violation of the law for which I could easily get sued, destroying this site and my personal finances for the rest of my life.

      • Well I guess you’d have to post lyrics at the same time you posted the chords in order to show where the chords are applying, so it would amount to putting up the lyrics!

        I was thinking more generally about the legality of Youtube tutorials and things like that. Would you say all Youtube tutorials are technically illegal? Or that a cover version of a song, posted publicly by the person doing the cover, is illegal?

      • It is only legal if permission is received from the copyright owner of the song. And sometimes that permission is indeed received, so sometimes they are legal. I don’t know if that’s 2.5% or 25% of the time, though.

      • This article is interesting… seems like there’s a distinction between teaching a song and covering it:

        http://longzijun.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/music-public-domain-and-copyright/

      • To an extent, there is. If someone were to sit down, one on one, with a guitarist and show him how to play a song, then there is almost definitely no violation of copyright law going on. However, if you post a video to YouTube that contains you playing portions of the song, then those portions are violations. Simply talking about how to play the song, without actually playing any of it, would probably not be a violation.

      • Actually, the article says that even a publicly posted tutorial would very likely count as fair use.

      • Actually, the article is wrong. 🙂

        Well, to be more precise: You could still get sued over it, and taken to court, and be out thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, even if you proved you were right. I don’t have that kind of money handy, so I’m not going to run that risk and let them be posted here.

        Besides, back to the original point at hand: It’s awfully hard to post chords without lyrics, and just about everyone acknowledges that posting lyrics of a complete song without permission is a violation of copyright law. (There is a decent case to be made that quoting a small excerpt is fair use.)

        When it’s my reputation and financial future at stake, I would rather follow the letter of the law and be safe than do something that’s technically against the law, even if there is a chance I would be let off the hook in court.

      • Right, I thought of that. See my earlier comment. 🙂