CD Review: Lovin’ Life (Gaither Vocal Band)

Rating: **** (of 5)

Average Song Rating: *** 1/2 (of 5)

Producers: Bill Gaither, Guy Penrod, Marshall Hall, Wes Hampton

Song List: I’m Forgiven; Build an Ark; Jesus and John Wayne; Go Ask; Home of Your Dreams; Search Me Lord; Lonely Mile; There’s Always a Place at the Table; The Diff’rence Is In Me; I’m Loving Life; When I Cry; Prisoner of Hope; Then He Bowed His Head and Died


Lovin’ Life is the second project with the group’s current lineup (third if you count Together). Group members Wes Hampton (tenor), Guy Penrod (lead), Marshall Hall (baritone), and Bill Gaither (bass) made the somewhat unusual move of jointly co-producing the project; each group member is listed as a producer, and there was no outside producer.

The project, par for the course of GVB projects, features a fairly even mixture of new songs, recycled songs, and covers. Two tracks, “Lonely Mile,” and “I’m Forgiven,” come from the Imperials repertoire (though from two vastly different stylistic eras, 1964 and 1980, respectively). Several familiar Gaither tracks are brought back, most notably “Then He Bowed His Head and Died,” the project-closing big ballad, and “Go Ask,” superbly arranged and featuring Bill Gaither on the verses.

A few of the project’s tracks were previously recorded by the Gaither Vocal Band. “Search Me, Lord,” previously recorded on their Testify Southern Classics project, appears to use the same soundtrack and arrangement. “Build an Ark” is the same song previously recorded by the GVB and the Cathedrals. This rendition doesn’t have quite the same energy of the 1984 Cathedrals rendition; this is probably partly since Bill Gaither doesn’t sing George Younce’s bass answer-back part on the chorus.

This project’s real gems are its five new songs. I have long been of the opinion that with one of the greatest songwriters in Christian music in the group (plus several others in his family), it would be foolish to under-utilize or under-emphasize his contributions. Bill and Gloria Gaither co-wrote three of the five new songs (“Jesus and John Wayne,” “There’s Always a Place at the Table,” and “Home Of Your Dreams”), two of them with their son Benjamin. Interestingly, the other two new songs (“I’m Lovin’ Life” and “Prisoner of Hope”) were songs Benjamin co-wrote with other contributors.

“There is Always a Place at the Table,” Wes Hampton’s feature song, is perhaps the project’s most memorable track (and certainly is one of its best). “Home of Your Dreams” has an almost cinematic feel, accented by the long (mostly) instrumental ending. It would seem more at home in a movie soundtrack than on a top 40 SG radio station.

The Gaither Vocal Band’s last major release, Give it Away, was their first since Russ Taff and David Phelps left the group. That project started the process of defining the new lineup’s sound. Roughly two more years on the road have given this lineup time to establish its own identity.

Now more free from the pressure to fill another lineup’s shoes, Lovin’ Life shows the current Gaither Vocal Band quite comfortable in its own.

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20 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. I love Bill’s “Go Ask.” I have a version of that from an old Homecoming … it’s a great song.

    I had no idea the Cathedrals did “Build an Ark”! I would be interested in hearing that version of the song – again, I’ve heard the GVB do it on a Homecoming.

    Bill is a fantastic producer on his own. His name on the credits of an album is, to me, a pretty secure guarantee of quality. He was listed as an executive producer on the first Crossway album (No Distractions) that I got. (Well, I only got that one, but anyway.) I’ve always been amazed at his gift for recognizing talent long before the rest of the world does!


  3. Everything Bill Gaither touches smacks of quality. He’s a do-it-right-the-first-time guy.

    Good review, Daniel.

  4. A credit of “executive producer” means that person put up money for the project to be made. It doesn’t mean they were actively involved in deciding how that money was spent in the process of creating the CD.

  5. But it probably means they at least had some kind of a veto power.

  6. I have wondered what that meant – I didn’t suppose he was the fellow in the studio running the mixer. Thanks for letting me know. However, I really do believe that it had a higher quality than what you would have typically expected. I think he was given more credit on some of the songs, but can’t remember any more. I do remember the guys telling how Gaither had made the suggestion they sing “Live Right, Die Right.” That was the song that made me buy the album.

    It’s like Neil says – whatever Bill touches. I may or may not like the style, but the quality is going to be pretty flawless for his name to be there (IMO).

  7. I’d love to hear Bill and Garry Jones co-produce an album. Seems that whatever projects they individually touch turns into gold. If they worked together, then that album would undoubtedly be the best ever for a paritcular group.
    Humm…………. how about Signature Sound or Gold City?

  8. Wait a minute, wasn’t it “Build An Ark” on the Testify project, not “Search Me Lord” ?

  9. Good catch–I stand corrected.

  10. Good review Daniel.

    I love this CD.

  11. Great review, as always, Daniel! I always love your reviews.

    Unlike some of the other GVB albums, I think this one truly gave opportunities for each member to sing lead on songs that really showcased their voice and that was very nice. Seriously, could there be a better song for Wes Hampton than “There’s Always a Place at the Table” or for Guy Penrod than “Jesus and John Wayne?” They each had some dynamic songs to shine on with this project, even Bill. It was great to hear.

    Even though there were some re-makes on this project, they were good about adding some small stylistic changes to set it apart from recordings past. For example, the sound and vocal effects that they added to “Build An Ark” jazzed up a song that has been done several other times. I was pleased that they left “Search Me, Lord” alone. That song is great in and of itself. As long it is done vocally well, it shines. I love it.

    Although I love the GVB’s version of it, I was a bit surprised to see “I’m Forgiven” on this project. The Booth Brothers did this same song on their 2007 project, “Carry On.” Bill usually doesn’t record a song so quickly that one of the other Homecoming artists just recorded without changing the arrangement pretty significantly. The GVB version is sped up slightly and they have a different ending from the Booth Brothers version.

    I think we have failed to remember the sixth new song on the CD, however. “When I Cry,” which was co-written by Marshall Hall and Benjy Gaither. I’ve not seen where anyone has mentioned it. I think it’s an incredible piece that truly deserves some attention. In all honesty, I’ve come to love most anything that Marshall Hall has written or co-written. (If you haven’t already, check out one of his solo CDs, “Boundless.” It’s more on the lines of contemporary than southern gospel, but great nonetheless.) Much of his music has lyrics that are so real and raw. They are written in such a way that really evokes the true emotion behind the thoughts. In addition, the music is always seeming to be the perfect subtle compliment to the great words. I love it. He and Benjy did an amazing job on this one and Marsh sung it so beautifully. I think it’s a concept that we so often fail to remember. God loves us enough to hurt when we hurt, cry when we cry, rejoice when we’re happy…That will never fail to stop amazing me and leaving me feeling very humble.

  12. It’s fairly new, but as I recall, it is © 2000. I wonder if it just sat on the shelf, or if someone recorded it? Marsh on a solo project?

  13. I only know of two solo projects for Marsh, Boundless and Wisdom of Fools. It’s on neither of those, I just check mine to make sure. So I’m not sure. Does he have any other solo projects that you know of?

  14. I don’t know.

    Maybe they co-wrote it for someone else.

  15. Is “I’m Forgiven” the song that the Flordia Boys sent to radio 6 or 7 years ago that featured Josh Garner?

  16. No, it’s a different song.

  17. “Search Me, Lord” was actually on Southern Classics, Vol. 2.

    The first Southern Classics recording was pre-Guy Penrod.

  18. This recording, “Lovin’Life”. is the greatest recording I have heard. I love every song on it and play it all the time. GVB has really hit their stride with this one. I will be giving this disc as Christmas presents this year!

  19. This cd is amazing! Marsh and Wes’ voices are so fresh and bring new life to the old songs. “When I Cry” by Marsh and Benjy is such an inspirational song.