CD Review: “Make it Real” (Christian Davis)
Although Christian Davis has spent less than ten years in Southern Gospel music, he already has quite a resumé. He sang with the Old Time Gospel Hour Quartet from 2000 through 2003, at a point when they had one of the smoothest blends in Southern Gospel. He was a member when the group won its only Singing News Fan Award thus far, Favorite Horizon Group of 2001. Christian left in 2003 to form his own group, the Christian Brothers Quartet. This group disbanded in 2005; he joined his current group, Mercy’s Mark Quartet, in 2006.
Davis released his first solo project last month. Of the ten songs on the project, Make it Real, at least eight should already be familiar to an average Southern Gospel fan.
The project starts with a Gaither classic, “Thanks to Calvary.” Davis’ rendition appears to be an unspoken tribute to George Younce’s rendition, proving that Davis did not waste his time singing backup vocals and filling in for the Old Friends Quartet. I have never heard a singer come any closer to Younce’s classic rendition than Davis does here.
The second song on the project is the classic Fanny Crosby hymn “My Savior First of All.” Davis’ early work with the Old Time Gospel Hour Quartet created an initial impression that he was a low-note specialist who would think nothing of rattling the subwoofers with an A-flat below low C at the end of every other song. But Davis’ rendition of this hymn shows that he has a pleasant solo voice as well. The song is keyed in E-flat with a transposition to E, which leaves him hitting a high note of the B below middle C. This is the range in which a baritone would typically perform the song.
When many bass singers are in the higher register of their range, they sing each note in a way that leaves no question that they are a bass singer. (Burman Porter is a good example of this style.) Christian Davis, though, takes a different approach to singing a melody. He sings it in a straightforward fashion, evidently confident enough of his own abilities that he feels no need to convince the listener with every note that he is a bass singing high. The result is a pleasing voice timbre that George Younce mastered, but few other singers achieve.
The third song on the project is “We Seek Your Face.” To my knowledge, this Rodney Griffin song was first recorded by Eric Bennett with the Kingdom Heirs on their 2000 project City of Light. Jeff Chapman, who replaced Bennett with the Kingdom Heirs, recorded it with Greater Vision in 2003 on their Quartets project. Christian uses the soundtrack from the Greater Vision Quartets project. Interestingly, Christian himself appeared on Quartets, singing a different song, “Crown of Bright Glory.”
The fourth song on the project is a song entitled “It Matters to Him About You.” This is one of the two songs on the project that is not already familiar. Unfortunately, this project has no liner notes, so I do not know who wrote the song or whether it is original to the project.
A choir joins Davis on “The Love of God.” Christians’s bass solo on this song was bears the imprint of influence from George Younce.
Davis turns in able performances of three other classic Southern Gospel songs, “He Touched Me,” “Beyond the Sunset,” and “Beulah Land.” “Beyond the Sunset” is another song that is often identified with George Younce. In his rendition, Davis delivers the narration with a voice quality very similar to Younce. However–unlike on his excellent renditions of “Thanks to Calvary” and “The Love of God”–Davis’ rendition of the narration doesn’t quite seem to capture the pathos that made George Younce’s version unforgettable.
Beyond any doubt, the most impressive vocal feat on the entire project is Davis’ a capella rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer.” Davis sang all four vocal parts, from tenor to bass. I am serious in stating that he sang tenor. He didn’t just sing the tenor part in a lead singer’s range. The song is keyed in A; the tenor part focuses on the fifth interval, so he sang the E above high C on an ongoing basis throughout the song. He sang the G above high C at several points in the song, with a smooth voice quality more reminiscent of Roger Bennett than of current Mercy’s Mark tenor Brent Mitchell.
Davis’ rendition does not neglect fans of his low notes, either. He hits the A two and a half octaves below middle C at several points towards the end of the song (including ending on that note). In other words, he sings one note short of three octaves in the song. The blend toward the end, where the high and low notes are two and a half octaves apart, is simply amazing. It’s a better quartet sound than many quartets, including Davis’ own group (Mercy’s Mark) have. But to listen while realizing that that one voice produced the entire range of sounds, from a low contrabass to a reasonably high tenor, is a feeling that I simply cannot put into words.
The project closes with the title track, “Make it Real.” Unfortunately, since this project has no copyright information in the liner notes, I can’t give much on the background of this song.
The project was produced by Wesley Pritchard and Davis’ wife Sophia Davis. The graphic design is more professional than most table projects. The liner notes are also well done, although copyright information on the individual songs is regrettably omitted.
Most solo projects by bass singers that I’ve heard seem to have a tension between focusing on rattling the subwoofer with incredibly low notes and with carrying a smooth melody. Many bass solo projects lean toward the subwoofer end of the equation, sacrificing a smooth melody for the subwoofer notes. However, the bass singer’s emphasis on low notes, which works so well in a quartet setting, does not translate as well into a solo project, where there are no other singers to carry the necessary smooth melodies.
Some bass singers adapt better than others to the different requirements of a solo recording. Davis seems to have done remarkably well with this project. He has mastered the art of carrying a smooth melody to an extent that his performances on Old Time Gospel Hour Quartet and Mercy’s Mark projects have not fully revealed. His current group, Mercy’s Mark, would do well to grasp his abilities in this regard and feature him more in the future.
I am not one to dispense high praise casually. But this project deserves it, so let me conclude with this: This is the best solo project by a bass singer that I have ever heard.