CD Review: Lovin’ Life (Gaither Vocal Band)
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.