CD Review: Across the Lands (Revelation)

Revelation, Southern Gospel trio from Northern Ireland: Thomas McCalmont, David Strange, Andy CalderwoodSouthern Gospel is distinguished as a genre by its vocals. Our vocal blends are rooted in four-part male quartet harmonies—the second highest voice taking the lead, with the highest and lowest voices redefining the boundaries of what a male voice can do. Male trios use the same formula, minus the bass part. Mixed groups with one female voice also follow the same formula, sometimes a couple of keys higher depending on the female vocalist’s range.

Over the years, musical changes in the genre have predominantly been to the tracks / background music. While a piano initially provided the only accompaniment for most groups, live three and four piece bands made a strong showing in the ’60s-early ’90s. In the ’70s and since, new influences have come in from orchestrated Inspirational music, CCM’s Adult Contemporary music (which, in turn, drew its influences from secular pop), and American-rooted genres like bluegrass and country.

Early this year, I was discussing some of this with a friend, and commented that the time was right for a group to incorporate Celtic influences into a Southern Gospel setting. It’s not too far a stretch from Bluegrass-influenced groups to the Celtic sound, since Bluegrass derives its ethnic roots from Scotch-Irish immigrants who had a Celtic heritage.

Well, the time has arrived. The group Revelation is here, and it is worth the wait.

Revelation hails from Northern Ireland, the Protestant portion of the Emerald Isle. Its members, tenor Thomas McCalmont, lead David Strange, and baritone Andy Calderwood share the Celtic roots of their homeland, the Protestant faith of their Scottish Covenanter forebears, and a love of groups like Paid in Full, Greater Vision, and the Gaither Vocal Band.

Most of the songs have been cut before, though several are new to the genre. A song-by-song breakdown:

  1. See What a Morning. From the opening notes, it’s quite evident that this isn’t your typical Southern Gospel project. This modern hymn, co-written by Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townsend, is given an invigorating, uptempo Celtic treatment featuring tenor Thomas McCalmont.
  2. The Greatest Wonder. After the opening track sending the message that Across the Lands will be a unique take on Southern Gospel, this one reassures the listener that it’s indeed a Southern Gospel project. Baritone Andy Calderwood takes the lead on a track that would be just as at home on a Talley Trio or Kingsmen project.
  3. Be Thou My Vision. If you have heard so many versions of “Be Thou My Vision” that you can no longer stand the song, no worries—I was there, too. Note the past tense. There is something incredibly compelling about the fusion of a Celtic-infused track, Irish accents, and Southern Gospel power harmonies. It just works. By the final verse, the arrangement is so broad and expansive that one might almost assume there was an orchestra in the mix—but there isn’t, just an incredibly well-balanced fusion of Celtic and Southern Gospel instrumentation.
  4. Hear the Call of the Kingdom. Lead singer David Strange takes his first full solo of this project (apart from a solo line in verse three of “Be Thou My Vision”), on a track also penned by the Getty/Getty/Townsend combo.
  5. I Will Praise Him Forever. This song was written by Shantell Faulknor of Voices Won, and originally recorded by Voices Won on their Easier to Live project. All three members of the trio have strong Irish accents while speaking, but baritone Andy Calderwood’s voice is the one that most shows his native land through melody; his solo here is one of the best vocal performances on a project full of strong vocal deliveries.
  6. Across the Lands. This is the project’s third (and final) Keith Getty / Stuart Townsend-penned song. The vibrant Celtic-influenced track and appropriately international lyric made this a logical pick for first single. David Strange is featured.
  7. He Looked Beyond My Faults. The Dottie Rambo lyric is set to the Irish “Londonderry Aire” (also known as the tune for “Danny Boy”), making it a must-include for a recording introducing a trio from Ireland to U.S. Southern Gospel audiences. Thomas McCalmont offers a lilting, ethereal delivery; combined with a mellow, pleasant track, this, perhaps surprisingly, ends up as one of the project’s strongest moments.
  8. See Ya Over There. This song, penned by Soul’d Out Quartet lead singer/manager Matt Rankin, offers the most straight-ahead, uptempo convention-style singing we see from Revelation on this project. There’s no solo; the group sings together throughout (though Thomas McCalmont has a step-out line on the turnaround).
  9. He Never Changes. David Strange takes the lead on this slow-paced song, and gives the lyric an appropriately thought-provoking delivery.
  10. Beyond the Open Door. Thomas McCalmont takes the lead on this largely forgotten ballad from the Gaither Vocal Band’s 1990 project A Few Good Men. It’s perhaps the most straight-ahead big ballad on the project, with strings and a well-executed Jeremy Medkiff guitar solo building to a huge chorus/final chorus/bridge.
  11. See What a Morning (encore). After one more chorus of this Getty/Townsend song, tenor Thomas McCalmont closes the project with a narration of John 11:26 and I Cor. 15:53 (“Jesus said, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.'” “Death is swallowed up in victory.”) It’s a fitting end to a project by a group who takes their name from the Bible’s final book—and adds an all-too-brief peek at Revelation’s charming Ulster Scots accents.

Across the Lands isn’t just the best Southern Gospel debut project of the year. It’s one of the five best Southern Gospel projects of the year.

Produced by: Jeff Collins. • Group Members: Thomas McCalmont (tenor), David Strange (baritone), Andy Calderwood (lead). • Review copy provided. • Song list: See, What a Morning; Greatest Wonder; Be Thou My Vision; Hear the Call of the Kingdom; I Will Praise Him Forever; He Looked Beyond My Faults; I’ll See You Over There; He Never Changes; Beyond the Open Door; See What a Morning (Reprise). • Average song rating: 4.55 stars. CD rating: 5 stars.


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34 Letters to the Editor

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  1. Well, you’ve at least made me very curious! I guess I might try to find some of these in Crossroad’s download store.

    They’re always telling us that SG doesn’t have enough variety – I wouldn’t mind some of these songs coming up in my shuffle now and then.

  2. So Daniel tell us… what are the five best SG projects of the year? 😉

  3. Hmm. Blue Skies, Declaration, Across the Lands, and . . .

    . . . I have 15 yet to be reviewed on my desk. Here’s to two more great ones!

    • Somehow I knew that Blue Skies and Declaration would be on your list. 🙂

      But I think it’s funny that you’re implying you’ll have to find something outstanding among the ones you haven’t heard yet, or else… 😉

      • …or else it’s a top 3, that’s all. 🙂

        Actually, I’m suspecting that one particular CD in my stack is going to have a huge surprise of a review when it comes out—one nobody saw coming.

      • All right. Then perhaps we’ll get a top four. 😉

      • But here’s the rub. It’s not so much that I like the project as that I must realize and concede its amazingness despite my personal musical preferences. 🙂

      • Well, I’ve had that I-don’t-quite-dig-it-but-I-gotta-admit-this-is-pretty-darn-good feeling about any number of things… music, books, movies. So I understand what you mean. 🙂

  4. I loved when Gaither Vocal and The Martins infused some minor celtic influences in very few of their songs. I can’t wait to hear Revelation and see what they bring to the table!

    • I doubt you’ll be disappointed. These guys have a really refreshing sound.

  5. I am definitely getting this project. I was thinking about getting it anyway, but this review has solidified my reasoning.

    • Cool! Whether or not you go as far as I do in ranking it as one of the year’s best projects, I think I can safely state that you’ll at least enjoy it.

      • Daniel, is there somewhere that we can listen to snippets of the tracks so as to actually hear some of the songs?

      • Don, you can check out samples at Crossroads here:

        http://crossroadsmusic.com/revelation/across-the-lands/

      • WOW! I listened to the snippets, and they are like the old Lays potato chip commercial. “You just can’t listen to one.” I will be checking with Family Christian Centers, Lifeway, Mardel’s etc to fiknd this excellent recording. The one “weak” (if you can call it that) track was in my opiinion “Be Thou My Vision.” Maybe the brevity of the snippet caused that. Regardless, this is a fantastic album. Right up there with EH&SS “Tribute To the Cathedrals.”

      • Yep. 🙂 “Be Thou My Vision” sounded like a highlight to me, but whatever. They’re definitely bringing something fresh. Very cool.

        I don’t have my hands on EHSS’s Tribute project as of yet, but I’ve picked up bits and pieces from Youtube previews of the video. My mouth is watering… looks like Ernie and the guys really out-did themselves.

      • Don – I think you’ll like it when you hear it. The arrangement is *merely* nice until the turnaround before the final verse – that’s where it makes my jaw drop. I had better not listen to the song during night, because I just have to crank up the volume there! 🙂

      • Well, I’ve listened to the arrangement now, and I just really enjoy it, but I have to admit that I’m not sure exactly what you mean about the final verse. It has a very nice “emotional peak,” and it’s very logical in terms of building up to a high point, but I guess “jaw-dropping” isn’t quite the word I’d reach for.

      • iPod speakers or cheap computer speakers don’t come close to conveying the effect – when you have some great high-fidelity speakers you hear the effect of the final verse a whole lot more.

      • I’m listening with exceptionally high quality headphones. Does that count? 😉

      • No. 🙂

      • Okay. 🙂

        Beautiful project by the way. I think Thomas is my favorite member. A sweet tone! (Come to think of it, I’d rather listen to him than David Phelps, but don’t tell too many people I said that…)

  6. SoGo, one of my church members purchased it for me. He won’t turn loose of the video, although I did get to watch it the other day. Marvelous! In fact, the video is #1 on the charts. NOBODY can say that Southern Gospel takes a back seat to anyone as far as talent and quality of material and performance are concerned.

    • Yes, I read the press release that they had topped Billboard’s gospel and secular charts. I suspect however that they’ve slipped back by now, because that sort of thing is constantly in flux.

      Perhaps somebody can enlighten me, because I’m a little ignorant here—exactly what does it mean for a video to “top the Billboard chart?” Does it mean it’s sold the most units in the past week? Similarly, I saw that they were hanging in the iTunes top ten on the Christian albums chart for a while—does that mean something similar? Obviously other Christian albums have been downloaded many more times, but I assume it’s a measure of frequency, not quantity.

      • The weekly iTunes charts measure sales that week.

        The Billboard charts track video sales during that week/month (?). If it tops the chart, it means it sold more units during the period of time the chart covers.

      • Thank you. That’s basically what I had thought—that for whatever limited period covered by the chart, the Tribute video had “pushed more units” than the Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc.

        Gotta admit it… that’s pretty stinkin’ awesome!

      • Yes. Two things to keep in mind:

        (1) The Beatles could have been on their first, fifth, or fifteenth week on the charts. I don’t know.

        (2) I think Gaither may time/process pre-sales to all hit at once.

      • Yeah, of course I knew that the other projects could have been out a lot longer. But even so, it’s a significant achievement.

  7. Just got “The Greatest Wonder” for free from Crossroads email …
    http://crossroadsmusic.com/freesingles/

    (Haven’t had time to listen to it yet.)

    • It’s a good song, but don’t rate the whole project on it. There are about eight stronger songs on the project…

      • Agreed. I’m loving “See What A Morning.” It’s gonna do well, here at He’s Alive Radio. I’m hoping other stations will be generous-hearted enough to give the lads a shot. Well-deserved.

      • LOL Daniel, I just re-read this and realized that you’ve rated “The Greatest Wonder” as the second weakest song on the project.

        😛

      • Yes. Well, the one they’re releasing now is the strongest.

  8. “Beyond the Open Door” is possibly the strongest track on the project. It’s an excellent song excellently performed, and much, much better than the original.