CD Review: Blue Skies (The Perrys)

Editor’s note: After this review was completed and scheduled to automatically load, yesterday’s news included the announcement of Troy Peach leaving the Perrys. While this review is of a pre-release of the CD, and the final release will include vocals by new baritone Bryan Walker, this pre-release is just simply too strong to leave unreviewed. So, with that caveat, here’s the initial review; I anticipate doing a follow-up of the final release.

Ten years ago the Perrys redefined their sound with an alto/lead/baritone/bass vocal lineup. Their first two mainline releases with this lineup, Changed Forever and This is the Day—and hit songs like “I Rest My Case at the Cross,” “Calvary Answers For Me,” “I Wish I Could Have Been There,” and “Damascus Road”—established their niche, their unique and instantly recognizable sound. Several recordings later, each working within and building upon their signature sound, the Perrys raised the bar with their 2007 release, Look No Further (review), featuring their strongest selection of songs to date.

Last year’s release, Almost Morning (review), was somewhat more experimental than its predecessors. Song arrangements influenced by Cajun, swing, and progressive styles were paired with other songs in more familiar styles (most notably, the #1 hit and Song of the Year “If You Knew Him”), with a varied final result.

Blue Skies returns to the musical territory that brought the Perrys to the top—with stellar results.

The opening track, “Blue Skies,” is an uptempo track with a musical feel described as “I Know it Was the Blood” plus a prominent banjo part (hat tip to Nate Stainbrook for suggesting the comparison).

Lead singer Joseph Habedank co-wrote the second track, “Grace Doesn’t Remember,” with two new collaborators, Kelly Garner and Amy Keffer-Shellem. This power ballad is an obvious pick for a radio single.

The Perrys always include a convention song on each project—sometimes brand-new (“Every Question Will Be Answered”), sometimes familiar (“I Love to Tell”), and sometimes almost forgotten and as good as new (“Come and Get Me”). They take the third course here, dusting off a largely forgotten gem, “His Love Lights the Way.” Even though Gerald Wolfe recorded the song as a piano solo in the mid-90s, there have been few if any vocal renditions in decades. This facile rendition will delight fans of classic quartet singing.

“Celebrate Me Home” should be a career song for the Perrys, a song they sing as long as they are on the road. It has an intelligently crafted lyric, a well-suited Wayne Haun-produced orchestral setting, and a power delivery from alto Libbi Perry Stuffle reminiscent of earlier performances like “Holy Shore” and “Walk Away Free.” The lyric, penned by Wayne Haun and Joel Lindsey, starts with a familiar metaphor:

When the time comes and I’m standing at the river

…but from that familiar starting place, it accomplishes a feat rare in a genre with hundreds if not thousands of Heaven songs: It paints a vivid picture, offering a fresh, unique, and well-crafted first-person account of a Christian passing into eternity:

That separates the two worlds that I love
Torn between my precious friends and family
And the place of peace that’s waiting up above

Hold my hand and stay there by my side
And when I finally step into the tide

Then, in a clever play on words, the chorus uses “celebrate” in multiple meanings, multiple time frames.

(Chorus)
Celebrate me home, celebrate me there

This first line refers to the time during which the narrator moves from this side of eternity to the other. By the next line, the scene has shifted:

Celebrate me in that land of wonder
Where nothing can compare
Celebrate me in that place
Celebrate me saved by grace
Don’t just sit and weep because I’m gone
Celebrate me home

So while “celebrate me home” is an action taken as the narrator moves from one end of eternity to another, by the end of the chorus, it is in the sense of “celebrate that I’m home.” It’s one of those little lyric twists that is not consciously evident on a casual listen through the song (more on that casual thing in a minute), but subtly reinforces and strengthens the impact of the concept.

Libbi Perry Stuffle is perhaps best known for tender, soft ballads like “The Potter Knows the Clay,” “Mary for a While,” and “I Will Find You Again”; on Blue Skies, she adds another to that repertoire, the Kyla Rowland-penned “I Know What I’m Singing About.” But among her big ballad / anthem performances, this is easily her strongest vocal performance yet. Picking up the “casual listen” train of thought, if by some chance the rendition has not completely caught your attention during the verses, the bridge is certain to:

No more broken dreams
No more tear-stained eyes
Into my Father’s arms I’ll fly…

The melody soars, the orchestration builds, and then on the climactic final word, “fly,” she hits a powerful high G, holding it for two full measures. And just when you think that is the climax, she moves up a half-step to A-flat, as the orchestration and harmony parts modulate up a key, and holds that for another full measure. Then, of course, the triumphal final chorus brings this power anthem to its finish.

The lyric came all too close to taking on added poignancy with bass singer Tracy Stuffle’s heart attack between when vocals were completed and the CD release date. Let us hope that this will not hold the Perrys back from staging and singling one of the strongest songs they have recorded in their career.

Believe it or not, until this year, the Perrys were among a very small number of major Southern Gospel groups who had never cut a song by Dianne Wilkinson. “Nothing Was Burned,” a Tracy Stuffle feature, changes that; it’s a fun, uptempo collaboration between Wilkinson and Kyla Rowland retelling the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Speaking of Kyla Rowland, the Perrys cut several of her songs on each project, and Blue Skies is no exception. In fact, she sends the Perrys so many good songs that they have a history of cutting at least one more Rowland song of radio single quality than they could possibly send to radio in a year’s time. Standing shoulder to shoulder with past Rowland songs like “Until I Start Looking Ahead,” “Look No Further,” and “Prior to a Prayer” is the song “Rejoice, Children, Rejoice.” It’s an anthem of hope that’s mostly ballad with a call-and-answer touch of convention song.

The album wraps up with five more tracks, the aforementioned “I Know What I’m Singing About,” two uptempo songs (“Sounds Good to Me” and “Every Time I Need Him”), and baritone Troy Peach’s two features, “He Loves to Save” and “The End of the Aisle.” Peach, who has spent most of his career prior to joining the Perrys as a lead/tenor in more progressive mixed trios and family groups, was still adjusting to the position of baritone in a traditional mixed quartet with Almost Morning. He has now found his sweet spot in this ensemble, and both features play well to his strengths.

Between their typically strong song selection and a vocal lineup that has been together long enough to hit their stride, the Perrys have produced a recording which stands aside This is The Day and Look No Further as one of the three strongest recordings of their career. It’s easily one of the five best Southern Gospel projects of the year, and earns a solid five-star rating.

Produced by: Wayne Haun. • Group Members: Libbi Perry Stuffle, Joseph Habedank, Troy Peach, Tracy Stuffle, Bryan Elliott. • Available from: Label, Artist. Review copy provided. • Song list: Blue Skies Coming; Grace Doesn’t Remember; His Love Lights the Way; Celebrate Me Home; Nothing Was Burned; Rejoice, Children, Rejoice; Sounds Good to Me; He Loves to Save; Every Time I Need Him; I Know What I’m Singing About; The End of the Aisle. • Average song rating: 4.45 stars. CD rating: 5 stars.


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41 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. So is this one not yet released? (Judging from your comment about different vocals on the final release.) It sounds like it would catch my attention again.

    • It’s for sale on their table, but not in stores.

      • Oh, OK. I couldn’t figure out if they were doing like L5 did last year or just what. I thought you didn’t usually publish reviews until the CD was released. Thanks!

      • Sometimes I make exceptions for 5-star CDs!

  2. “Celebrate Me Home” sounds nice, but grammatically it seems like it’s stretching things a little. The first usage is normal, “Celebrate me [all the way] home.” But the second usage, “Celebrate me home,” meaning “Celebrate the fact that I’m home?” How many times do we actually use the phrase that way in normal speech? “Celebrate me graduated?” Sounds awkward to me.

    • I think it’s legitimate poetic license here. 🙂

      • And how much bad grammar has been excused for the sake of poetic license, I would like to know? 😉 (Just kidding. Sort of.)

  3. “Celebrate Me Home” is my latest new favorite song. 🙂 As I get older and closer to my homegoing time, I find myself drawn to songs like this. It is a wonderful reassurance of what awaits us, and the Perrys, especially Libbi, are superb on it.

    Daniel, you nailed it when you said: ““Celebrate Me Home” should be a career song for the Perrys, a song they sing as long as they are on the road. It has an intelligently crafted lyric, a well-suited Wayne Haun-produced orchestral setting, and a power delivery from alto Libbi Perry Stuffle reminiscent of earlier performances like “Holy Shore” and “Walk Away Free.”

    • Thank you! I spent quite a good little while on those few lines, so I’m glad at least one person liked them!

      • Make that two people liked them! Great job Daniel. I bought this CD from The Perrys the night that they got them from Nashville at the NQC. I received a tweet that they would be there that night and I went by their table and asked Troy for one and he said that they would be there at about 8 that night. I went back at 8 and got mine and I love it. It is a wonderful CD and I love “Celebrate Me Home!” Great review…..

      • Thank you!

  4. When i was at NQC this year, i went to their table Monday, Tues, and Wednesday night, and they didn’t have it yet. They said it was coming on Thursday night, so i was gone by then.

  5. I found “Celebrate Me Home” on Youtube. One question: You described the note Libbi hits on the bridge as a “powerful high G.” For a female, I think of a “high G” as the G above the C above middle C. But in this case you must have meant just the G above middle C, right? I suppose that would be high for a male, but in this context I wouldn’t think of it as “high.”

    • You’re entirely correct. I would not call it a “high G” for most women, but it is for Libbi – it’s toward the top of her comfortable range.

      • Interesting. Would you say that she’s perhaps a contralto rather than an alto?

      • Maybe now.

        She actually started out as the Perrys’ soprano.

      • If she started out as a soprano, her voice must have really lowered since then!

        Out of curiosity, what is the normal range for an SG soprano?

      • The normal range for an SG soprano is approximately equivalent to the normal range for an alto anywhere else.

        😆

      • Ha! Funny. Of course Taranda Greene would be an exception, but she’s more pop than SG.

      • That’s interesting – That’s right at the top of my grandmother’s range. She (my grandmother) had an extremely beautiful voice, but a limited range, barely over an octave. I had no idea that Libby’s voice was that low.

  6. I noticed the high G reference too, but never commented. I still maintain the high G is as New Sogofan said. I wouldn’t change what it meant just because the G is high for someone (although Libbi sings higher than that). You could say her high G or something.

    As far as SG soprano’s ranges, yeah SG females sing lower and their sopranos are typically closer to choir altos. Some are higher and some have extended ranges on top a little that give them a few notes on some choir altos, but you don’t really find any (that I can think of) that hit even the G’s let alone high like Sandi Patty. In my choir, most of the sopranos top out at about F#. I have one who can hit an A, but that is pretty much it. I changed one who used to hit G’s to an alto when I discovered she could sing E’s below middle C. Her high notes although there, were different in quality, and now a few years later, she can only get to about a D. 😀 I love her low ones though. The sweet spot is probably in the B down to G area.

    • You knew a woman who had a range from E below middle C to G above C above? That’s impressive!

      • I’m seeing more women going to even singing tenor in their choirs. I know when I was a teenager I sang soprano, but over the years my voice has gotten lower. I was singing alto until my Music Minister heard me harmonizing in the baritone range and he changed me to a tenor. Now that I have sung tenor for a while, my voice can’t reach any of the soprano notes. The highest I can comfortably reach is an A above middle C. I can go higher, but there is a “break” and it isn’t smooth. The lowest I can go is the 2nd B flat below middle C. I can go a little lower but would need a mike to project. I enjoy singing tenor/baritone because I sound better at harmonizing then any type of solo. Libbi can sing great in the lower range as could Vestal Goodman, but they both have a bigger range than I do!

      • Beth – utterly fascinating!

      • My “lows” max out around the E or E flat below middle C. With my highs, it really depends on whether I’m having a good day. I can hit an E pretty comfortably, so I guess that would give me about a two-octave range. I use to be able to get up to the Gs and As when I was in choir though. 😀

      • Now see, YGG, had you posted this before I would have either thought you were a girl OR an SG tenor. 😉

      • Oh, I can go a lot lower than some SG tenors I’ve heard of!

      • BTW, there is more than one E or Eb below middle C. 😉 I have heard some of the SG tenors hit the second Bb or so beneath middle C. (Haase and Free to name two). Phelps has a low E (the second beneath middle c) up to an F or F# or so above high C putting him at over 3 octaves.

      • I know, but Daniel has told me that some tenors couldn’t even reach the first E below middle C—they max out a good bit higher.

      • I suspect Kirk Talley can’t sing too low (listening to his speaking voice).

  7. I just got “Blue Skies” from their table at a concert last Sunday. I think release date on it is 2/22/11! I love “Celebrate Me Home”. It is my 2nd favorite on the CD. My favorite song is Joseph’s “Grace Doesn’t Remember”! Beautiful song! All the songs on “Blue Skies” are fantastic, but I have to admit there is nothing, absolutely nothing like hearing The Perrys in person! This was my second time to hear them. I heard them last year when Troy & Bryan Elliott were with them. I really like Troy, but I LOVE Bryan Walker! He is the nicest guy & a wonderful singer. The chemistry among all the members is wonderful, and add Matthew Holt, who was with them on Sunday, and there are blessings galore!

  8. My first time seeing The Perrys in concert 2 Saturdays ago when they came through Rutherfordton, NC. WoW! What a Blessing! They are my new fav in SG.
    Absolutley love Celebrate Me Home. Love the play on double meaning as well very,very smart.
    Do you know when and where I could get the sheet music for this song?

    • Regrettably, I don’t think it’s available.

  9. So when and where will the
    CD of Celebrate me Home be online or in the stores to purchase? I love love love this song. I am not a singer so don’t know what everyone is talking about range of who can sing what. Just listen to the song and let it touch your heart. For those close to going home or being a caregiver for one, this song will touch your hear.

  10. God just touched my life with this beautiful song. I heard it for the first time this afternoon when I was leaving the hospital. Tomorrow we will take mom off the machine and let her go home. Dad is there now waiting on her. Celebrate me Home is mon’s testimony. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for the comfort and peace in my life tonight!!!

  11. To Brooke, who left so soon, so fast, so young. Boy what a celebration, welcome home. We will try to smile through the tears while celebrating you home.

  12. Loved this CD! Blues Skies Coming, and Every Time I Need Him were really good, as well as Celebrate Me Home and lots of others!

  13. I heard “Celebrate Me Home” for the first time this afternoon while driving back from dropping a friend at the bus to travel cross country to her mother’s funeral.
    What a wonderful uplifting song it is! I will listen to it many times in the next month as the 10 year mark approaches of my teenage son’s homegoing.
    I’m glad to know whose clear, vibrant voice carries this song along.I knew it was too low to be Janet Paschal, but lacked the twang of many of the other SoGo artists that I could think of.
    And I do so love to hear a good bass! It adds SO much to a song!

  14. Great song it caught my attention the first time i ever heard it . C or G who cares just let her keep on singing Celebrate me home it’s God sent and she does a wonderful job>

    • Well some of us do, and more might if the note she hit wasn’t in the key of the track. 😀

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