CD Mega Review: “When God Ran” (Kingsmen Quartet)

Contributors:

1. The Cloud He’s Coming Back On

Wes: This is a medium to uptempo number that gets this disc started off in fine fashion. This is a very “Kingsmen-style” tune that reassures the listener that even though there are some new musical influences and styles present on the CD, it’s still the same Kingsmen that we’ve all known and loved for years. This is actually a cover of a song previously recorded by the Happy Goodmans. Solid group vocals on the first verse and chorus, then a key change occurs and Ray Reese and Harold Reed split the second verse. A nice key change during the repeat of the second chorus leads to the tag. Reed is definitely making a statement to the doubters that he can “tote the mail” as a Kingsmen tenor.

Brandon: This is a cover of an old Happy Goodmans song. Triumphant also covers the song on their new project, Intermission. I’m going off on a tangent, but Triumphant covered “The Holy Hills Of Heaven” last year, which was also covered by the Perrys last year. Out of all the old Goodman songs, Triumphant ends up covering two that were also covered by other big time groups in the same year. That is just strange.

Aaron: There seems to be a lot of “cross-recordings” happening in SG lately. Just look at 2006, when Truth Is Marching On was recorded by three different groups at the same time: Gold City, Legacy Five, and The Talley Trio.

Back on subject, however, this is a really good rendition of the song. I find myself humming this throughout the day, as it’s a pretty catchy tune!

Brandon: I can see “cross-recordings” of new songs. When the Singing News chart started, the same song would be on the chart by two, three, or four artists. If a group really falls in love with a song, they can record it even if another group as the rights to single it, such as the case with “Truth Is Marching On”. These Goodman songs have been around 20 to 30 years and could have been recorded at any time. Two groups picking out the same song out of the Goodmans’ huge song catalog in the same year is funny to me, funnier because it has happened with Triumphant two years in a row. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with it, it just strikes me as strange.

Adam: I’ve really enjoyed this song, but I can’t wait to hear Triumphant’s rendition.

2. Fight To The Finish

Daniel: “Fight to the Finish” features tenor Harold Reed, who joined the Kingsmen nearly a year ago after spending ten years with the Dixie Melody Boys and three years with the Florida Boys. The song, Reed’s first full feature with the Kingsmen, combines military imagery with an uptempo arrangement.

The song is keyed in C, modulating to D-flat in the second verse and D in the final chorus. At least by Kingsmen standards, the arrangement is not taxing, never straying above the A above middle C. But it fits the song well, permitting a more driving and even martial edge to the song than a typical higher arrangement for a Kingsmen tenor feature would permit.

Brandon: I remember the announcement of Harold’s hiring caused quite a stir in the online community. I think this is a nice feature to introduce him to fans who don’t/can’t/won’t make it to Kingsmen concerts. The non-taxing key is a good choice for his first feature, as it doesn’t expose his lack of range that the Kingsmen’s tenors typically have. The song isn’t one of my favorites on the project, but I enjoyed the song and Harold’s performance.

Daniel: I have heard that he can hit the G above high C on “Glory Road.” However, he tends to use his lower tenor range on most songs, including features, to save his voice. This both frees him up to hit a few high notes each night, and have the endurance to outlast most Southern Gospel tenors. He has already lasted roughly a decade and a half on the road, well above the average for Southern Gospel tenors.

Wes: The low harmony on this song is pretty unique for the Kingsmen. Solid song, but nothing spectacular.

Aaron: I’d been really anxious to hear this project for a number of reasons, but one big reason was to hear Harold again. I enjoyed him with The Florida Boys, and this song puts to rest any doubts that he wouldn’t fit in with The Kingsmen. The previous track showed him off a little, but this song really lets him show all other tenors how to get it done. Can’t wait to hear this one live!

3. Gospel Road

Adam: Classic quartet harmonies kick off this song, interestingly, with a banjo & a triangle as the primary instrumentation in the soundtrack. Phillip Hughes sings the lead on the mellow verses on “Gospel Road”. If you are looking for vocal acrobatics, then you need to skip this song, but if you like solid, smooth gospel singing, then this song will please the ears of most Southern Gospel fans.

The Kingsmen have really opened themselves musically on this project and I think the results are fabulous. While this song uses some lackluster imagery to get it’s message across, it’s purposed is served to encourage the listener that there is a new home awaiting them “at the end of Gospel Road”.

Brandon: I completely agree with you about the lackluster imagery. The alliteration of “Apostle Avenue”, “Believer Boulevard”, and “Salvation Street” sounds like something out of a corny 70s song. It doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the song, though. I even like the banjo and triangle, which shocks me.

To me, the key word you used to describe this song is “smooth”. It fits, but that isn’t a word that is typically used to describe the Kingsmen.

Aaron: I found myself really enjoying this track, because it’s a good example of The Kingsmen trying out some newer stuff. It has a bluegrass feel, not unlike Alabama’s Dixieland Delight, and the guys sing it with good effect.

Wes: Smooth is the best description here, which again is historically different for the Kingsmen, but in later years they’ve done some smooth stuff, like “Come to the Water” from You’re Not Alone.

Daniel: A banjo, used as the lead instrument on the first chorus, gives this song a bluegrass feel and makes it stand out on first listen to the project. It fits the rest of the project well enough to not be an anomaly, but is unique enough within this project’s style to remain one of its most catchy tracks.

Adam: My intial reaction to the imagery was that is was cheesy. I reworded it because I thought the word cheesy sounded too negative and that wasn’t my intention because the song deserved better than that. I like the term Brandon used…”Corny”.

4. When God Ran

Brandon: The project’s title cut also serves as the first single and features the returning Bryan Hutson, who rejoined the group as baritone. He served as the group’s lead singer from 1996 to 2001. Since this is the song involved in David Bruce Murray’s Guess The Group contest, I should mention that Bryan’s voice, especially the “my God called me son” line in the bridge, is what cemented it in my mind that the song was recorded by the Kingsmen. In my opinion, Bryan is one of the best vocalists in the group’s history.

The song is the first of two ballads featuring Bryan on the project. It is a typical ballad in that it starts laid back, then the music builds, and finally the vocals step up to match the music’s intensity.

The most heard comment about the song thus far is that it doesn’t sound like the Kingsmen. I’ll go along and say the song is much more polished than the typical Kingsmen sound.

Aaron: I went out on a limb (so I thought) when I guessed that it was The Kingsmen singing this song. The only reason I guessed was because of Ray Dean Reese’s bass and Harold Reed’s tenor. This song might shock some dyed-in-the-wool Traditional SG fans who don’t care for the Progressive stuff, because this cover of a CCM hit sounds like nothing the guys have ever done before.

I hear tell that this will be the first single off the project. I can see this rising pretty quickly on the charts; it’s already gotten some good publicity, and besides that, this is simply great stuff!

Wes: Wow. Hutson is how I knew this was the Kingsmen. It’s a very progressive sound, I like Brandon’s word: polished. This may be musically the best single the Kingsmen have ever released. Definitely the best song on the project.

Adam: What a powerhouse ballad. Amazing work!

5. Road To Glory

Aaron: This song sounds a bit like something The Dove Brothers would do. It sounds different from a typical Kingsmen song. The groups sings the first verse in unison, then split to parts at the end of the verse. The second verse features a Ray Dean Reese solo in the first phrase, then each part comes in with each verse.

A false ending pays a throwback tribute of sorts to a Kingsmen classic, Glory Road, then Brandon Reese’s drumming leads to a reprise of the chorus, with another tribute to Glory Road thrown in.

Brandon: This is actually one of my favorite songs on When God Ran. It is extremely catchy. I can’t help but hum along or mouth the words as I listen.

While Ray does a nice job on the verse, I think the standout vocal on the track belongs to Phillip Hughes, especially on the bridge. I also think that Harold’s vocal stands out in a very good way on this song.

Aaron, are you referring to the line “It’s good to be on that glory road” as a tribute to “Glory Road” or the false ending itself? I agree that the line is an obvious tribute, but I don’t normally associate a false ending with any arrangement of “Glory Road” that I’ve heard.

Aaron: Yes, I meant the line itself, not the actual false ending.

Wes: Decent song, it’s definitely catchy. This group of Kingsmen have an overriding smoothness to their blend that is really anchored by Hutson’s voice. Reed is a fairly smooth tenor as well. I like the nod to “Glory Road” as well.

6. Big Enough

Wes: This is a very catchy, bouncy tune that includes some of the higher tenor notes from Harold Reed. The harmony is a bit inverted as the baritone part is actually stacked over top of the lead part. Ray Reese sings the second verse and does a fine job, this is the type of song he does well. There are a couple of very interesting key changes after the second chorus. It starts with restructuring the harmony to the traditional arrangement and then changes in the middle of the chorus to a tenor lead. It’s actually quite an interesting twist to an otherwise simple song musically. This is another song that will get stuck in your head and would make a great radio tune.

Aaron: Catchy, and unique, especially near the end. Harold’s higher range shows itself on this song. Ray Reese’s bass features are always impeccably sung, and the same is true in this song.

Adam: Something struck me about this song yesterday. I was stuck in traffic listening through the CD in my car and I had to repeat this song a couple of times. The verses are reminiscent to the tune of an old kid’s song, “Big Rock Candy Mountain”. Once this thought struck me, I really had a hard time enjoying this song. It’s probably my least favorite now. Weird how a song can remind you of such a silly song from your childhood.

7. The Word

Daniel: “The Word” is a big ballad featuring baritone singer Bryan Hutson. The verses focus on the immutability of the Bible despite scoffers’ challenges and opponents’ attacks; the chorus focuses on the Bible’s life-changing power.

The musical accompaniment is a fully orchestrated soundtrack. While many past Kingsmen tracks, as well as a few on this project, seem to be arranged in a way that would highlight a band in a live concert, this project reflects the Kingsmen’s current interim between bands with several tracks, such as this one, that seem to be arranged to be performed as a standalone track

Brandon: This is the project’s second ballad (along with the title song) that features Bryan. By far, I think this is the weaker of the two. Bryan’s vocal isn’t bad, but the song just doesn’t hold my attention. I do find the ending of the song, the staggered, multiple repeating of “the Word” by all four vocalists to be a nice touch.

Daniel: Certainly “When God Ran” is one of the project’s standout tracks. It’s the sort that makes you sit up and say, “Now who is that?” This song, on the other hand, isn’t the sort that makes you sit up and pay attention on the first time through the project. But I think that, in its own quiet way, it is actually a stronger song than appears on first listen. With the right introduction – perhaps mentioning liberal theologians’ attacks on the Bible – I could see this track being popular in concerts.

Aaron: I agree with Daniel’s statement that this song does take a few listens to catch on. The ending did catch my attention the first time through, though; The repeats of the title sound similar to the ending of Gold City’s Preach The Word.

Wes: I am in the minority here, but I love this song. Maybe it’s just because I really like Hutson’s voice on ballads. I also caught the similarity to Gold City’s “Preach The Word”. That was a good call, Aaron. I just think the lyrics and Hutson’s performance make this one of the strongest songs on the CD. Not quite as good as “When God Ran”, but it’s a close second in my eyes (or should that be ears?).

Adam: I liked this song the more I listened to it. Bryan Hutson is an awesome singer.

8. A Sound From The Other Side

Adam: This upbeat number, lead by Phillip Hughes, has the fastest tempo on the album (which is right up my alley). This is one of those songs where you want to crank the volume up in the mornings to wake you up and get your blood pumping or listen to while working out. Tracks like this are what I think of when I’m thinking about The Kingsmen. It reminds me of songs like “Even John Couldn’t Tell It”, “Somebody Run” & “Joy’s Gonna Come”.

Continuing in The Kingsmen tradition of catchy tunes, “A Sound From The Other Side” delivers enough energy to make you tap your toes and also get you excited about our Savior’s return to Earth to call us home.

Wes: This is a typical Kingsmen uptempo song that keeps their fan base happy. It’s important when stretching your musical boundaries to not alienate your core fan base, and this is one of three tunes on the disc that are straight ahead Kingsmen style tunes.

Aaron: I love this track! Phillip Hughes shows on this song that he is doing a great job of continuing the traditional of exceptional lead singers for The Kingsmen. Very catchy tune, and I loved that last bass note that Ray Reese hit at the end!

9. More Than Pray

Brandon: Lead singer Phillip Hughes is featured on “More Than Pray”, a medium tempo, country sounding song. I can’t help but compare the first verse to the opening verse of a song on the Dove Brothers’ newest project, “A Day In The Life Of America”. Both verses talk about a typical slice of life event. This song talks about going to bed after watching the evening news. The Dove Brothers’ song talks about getting up and preparing to go to work.

The song carries a good message, but musically, I’m not that impressed. I don’t like the very country sound and think Phillip is a much better singer than this song allows him to show.

Aaron: This song really didn’t impress me at all. It felt like the writer was trying to cram so many things into each phrase of each verse that it was just a big turn-off to me. The aforementioned A Day In The Life Of America doesn’t cram quite as much, making it much more listenable than this one.

Wes: I agree that this is the weakest song on the project. It’s not bad, but not nearly as strong as the others. I agree with Brandon on the heavy country sound. I wasn’t impressed with Gold City’s Revival for the same reason.

Aaron: After a couple more listens, I warmed up to this song. By no means a really strong song like the others, but it’s kinda nice.

Adam: Looks like I’m in the minority. I thought it was a good song, worthy of at least 3 stars. Phillip Hughes’ voice is really growing on me.

10. He Knows My Name

Aaron: This song will please longtime Kingsmen fans, with a sound reminiscent of their classic style. The groups sounds like The Florida Boys (especially with Reed’s tenor!) or The Kingdom Heirs on this track.

Ray Dean Reese’s smooth bass voice shows one reason why he was a worthy inductee to the SGM Hall Of Fame!

Daniel While several of the soundtracks on this project seemed to be recorded to be performed without (or at any rate without needing) a band, the arrangement on this Harold Reed feature seems to be written for a live band. Look for this song to be performed without a soundtrack, or with only a light soundtrack, if/when the Kingsmen band returns.

Wes: This is a great song to put as the ending track. It’s the last of the 3 Kingsmen-esque tracks on the CD, and the most reminiscent of the “three chords and a cloud of dust” style of days gone by. Sung very solidly, this absolutely closes out the CD on a good note (literally and figuratively).

Adam: It’s nice to see that the Kingsmen still hold on to some of their classic sound. This album has been a great mixture of new and old.

Summary

Song Wes Daniel Adam Brandon Aaron
The Cloud He’s Coming Back On * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Fight To The Finish * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Gospel Road * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
When God Ran * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Road To Glory * * * 1/2 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Big Enough * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The Word * * * * 1/2 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
A Sound From The Other Side * * * 1/2 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
More Than Pray * * 1/2 * * * * * * * * * 1/2
He Knows My Name * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Average 3.8 stars 4 stars 4 stars 3.9 stars 4.5 stars
Composite Average 4.04 stars

Daniel: Often when a group experiments with a new sound, they test the waters by trying it on one or two tracks. On When God Ran, the Kingsmen take the far more daring step of trying a new sound on for size throughout the album. This modern country style is comparable to that of the Dove Brothers, interestingly enough also a Crossroads artist. Whether or not the Kingsmen decide to keep this style, its consistent use lends the project a stylistic coherency that will keep it far from being a weak entry in the Kingsmen catalog.

Aaron: I’ve heard numerous times that this project has taken The Kingsmen to a whole new level. I must say that I agree wholeheartedly; the guys did a great job of testing the waters without getting themselves too far out. They sort of started that trend with 2006’s Good Good God, but this project takes a much more ambitious approach. I like the fact that even though this is the first time in many years that The Kingsmen have been without a band, they make do with what they have, and arrange great songs despite the absence. I hope that the next project continues in this same vein, but that they will have a band again and will be able to put out songs like this that would involve the band more. This is already one of my favorite projects of the year, and I believe that this will put The Kingsmen back at the top of Southern Gospel music.

Adam: The Kingsmen have outdone themselves musically on When God Ran. I hate to say it, but maybe losing the band was the best thing that has happened to them, especially in a studio setting. I know there will always be those “gotta have a band” mentalities, but being without the band has allowed them to think outside of the traditional “Kingsmen” box and really expand their library of songs. Yeah, their old projects were good, but this new project raises them to another level. I thought Good Good God was a great project, but this one surpasses that effort by far. Sounds like the Kingsmen have a strong future ahead of them, especially if they keep raising the bar on their material. When God Ran is one of the few must-have projects this far into 2008.

Although my individual song ratings put the album at 4 stars, the project is easily rated higher when listening to the entire project instead of individual tracks for review. My overall rating is 4.5 stars. Even after listening through the project 12+ times, it’s still got a refreshing sound and I highly recommend adding this project to your ‘must-buy’ list for 2008.

Wes: This is one of the strongest CDs the Kingsmen have done in a long time. The closest from their past I can compare to is I Will or You’re Not Alone. It is with this CD that the Kingsmen have reinvented themselves and positioned themselves as being in the musically strong class of quartets. The lineup has every appearance of now being quite stable, and the blend is incredibly smooth, especially for the Kingsmen. Strangely enough, however, I gave it 38 stars for a 3.8 average. I think this CD is definitely one of the type that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. For example, on its own, I don’t care much for “More Than Pray”, but in the context of the CD, it fits. Taken as a whole, I’d give this a 4 or 4.5 star rating. It’s definitely the strongest collection from the Kingsmen in recent years.

Brandon: If Good, Good God was a tune up for the group’s sound, When God Ran is an engine overhaul. As Wes said, they have “reinvented” themselves to match the group’s personnel. Bryan has a big voice that was made for ballads, have him sing ballads. Harold’s tenor voice isn’t made to scream all night long, have him sing lower, smoother songs and let him pop a note when he needs to. Phillip is a great singer with a terrific range, so let him sing a country clunker. Ok, so the project isn’t perfect, but what is? My star ratings average out to 3.9 per track, but that doesn’t really do this project justice. I’ll go a little higher than Wes to call it a definite four and half star project.

***

SouthernGospelBlog.com (revised) rating: 5 stars.

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CD Review: “A Blackwood Homecoming” (Blackwood Singers)

Yesterday, in my review of the Blackwood Quartet’s The Way it Used to Be, I explained the history of the various Blackwood Groups. Today’s review is of A Blackwood Homecoming. The project was produced by R.W. Blackwood Jr. and Ron Blackwood of the Blackwood Singers, and Terry Blackwood. It features 17 tracks and is an expanded version of the original release. (The original release is available from Terry Blackwood’s site here and only has ten tracks.)

The project contains both new tracks and older recordings. It has vocals from the Blackwood Singers members, the Blackwood Quartet, Terry Blackwood, James Blackwood, Jimmy Blackwood, Andrea Blackwood Carter, and Kay Blackwood DeWitt. Yet despite the mix of tracks and vocalists, the recording’s sound quality is surprisingly consistent.

This sonic consistency is achieved in large part by overdubbing vocals of from various Blackwoods onto the older tracks. Most of the tracks feature a mixed group of voices, something that come as a surprise to both male quartet and mixed group fans.

However, male quartet fans need not write off the project. Four tracks on the project feature the voices from the current Blackwood Quartet–John Rulapaugh (tenor), R.W. Blackwood (lead), Ron Blackwood (baritone), and Rick Fair (bass). These songs–“Someone to Care,” “Feelin’ Mighty Fine,” “Rolling Riding Rocking,” and “How Big is God”–are some of the strongest tracks on the project, and should particularly delight all fans of John Rulapaugh during his Dove Brothers and Palmetto State Quartet days.

Rick Fair toured with Rulapaugh in the Palmetto State Quartet, singing baritone at the time. He has now moved to the bass position with this quartet. He is featured on “How Big is God” (as well as singing a few lines on “Someone to Care.”) Though his range is not as low as many other Southern Gospel bass singer, he has developed an enjoyable tone and fits well in the bass position.

Overall, I decided to give the project a rating of “Enjoyable.” But the tracks from the current Blackwood Quartet suggest that a full recording of this caliber would delight fans of classic quartet singing, and stand a strong chance of capturing a “Recommended” (or perhaps even “Highly Recommended”) rating here.

Available from: Good question. It’s available from The Blackwoods, but isn’t on their website.

Rating: Enjoyable (with several tracks Highly Recommended).

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CD Review: “The Way it Used to Be” (Blackwood Quartet)

2008bqwayitusedtobe.jpgThis project is the most recent complete recording from the Blackwood Quartet. It is actually several years old, but just came to my attention when it was added to Springside’s newly available titles. (A newer project with several tracks from the current lineup is scheduled to be reviewed tomorrow.)

Since there are several groups with the Blackwood name, it seems every review of a Blackwood project needs to be prefaced with an explanation of just which Blackwood group it is. There are three major Blackwood groups today; Jimmy Blackwood, son of James Blackwood, runs the Blackwood Brothers Quartet. Mark Blackwood, son of Cecil Blackwood, runs the Blackwood Gospel Quartet. The Blackwood Quartet (the group being reviewed) and Blackwood Singers are run by Ron and R.W. Blackwood, sons of the R.W. Blackwood.

Ron and R.W. Blackwood perform with their wives as the Blackwood Singers, a mixed group. They also hire a tenor and bass–for this project, Steve Warren and Paul Hyde–and perform some numbers as the Blackwood Quartet. (Mike LoPrinzi apparently also sang some baritone tracks on the project.)

This project features nineteen Southern Gospel classics. The project is produced in a fairly simple, piano-and-vocals style. Though the session pianist is not credited, he (or she) is a master at this style of accompaniment, doing enough fills and runs that it didn’t actually register that piano was the only accompaniment until my third or fourth listen through the project.

Fans of Steve Warren should especially like this project, as he is featured on numerous tracks, most memorably “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “He Hideth My Soul,” and “It is Well With My Soul.”

Although Paul Hyde may never have become one of the most recognized names in Southern Gospel, his bass tone is well-rounded and his range is wide. His range is particularly showcased on “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.” [UPDATE, 12/21/2012: Nic Val has posted a comment indicating that the bass vocals were his instead.]

Fans of classic piano-and-vocals Southern Gospel quartet singing will particularly enjoy this project.

Available from: Springside.

Rating: Enjoyable.

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CD Review: “Spreading the Legacy” (Childress Family)

200802childress.jpgThough the Childress Family has been touring for over thirty years, for most of that time they have been known for what one of the original members became after leaving the group: Original member Shannon Childress was the Hoppers’ pianist and sometime producer from the mid-80s through the late-90s. This is unfortunate, because if this CD is any indication, the group is a pretty solid act on its own account.

All the group members are related; family patriarch and matriarch Ken and Marlene Childress are joined by daughters Carla Childress (soprano) and Teresa Childress Lutz (alto), as well as son-in-law Jamey Lutz (lead) and grand-daughter Courtney Lutz.

Though Shannon Childress has not re-joined the group, he did produce this project. The producer’s touch that helped propel the Hoppers to the top is in evidence on this project, especially on the soaring ballads “For What Earthly Reason” and “Who is He in Yonder Stall,” the project’s highlights.

Even though the project has several cover songs, the song placement gives the overall project the feel of a project of entirely new songs. Five of the new songs were written or co-written by family members (if two songs from Shannon’s pen are counted).

The album has a musical balance that reflects the variety of tastes within the family–ballads, convention songs, a piano solo, and even a few songs with a progressive feel. The songs with a more contemporary feel are the three on which granddaughter Courtney is featured; she brings vocal stylings reminiscent of a young Lauren Talley to songs like the cover of Natalie Grant’s “I Desire.” Though the range of styles present on the CD would suggest an artistic tension that is present to a minor degree, skillful song placement minimizes this drawback.

It seems odd to describe an ensemble that has been touring for over three decades as having potential, but that is the one word that this recording most brings to mind. Put another way, that the group is getting less recognition than the quality of this project suggests that it deserves. Granted, this project may not be quite at the level of a major-label high-budget release by a current top group. But it comes surprisingly close.

Rating: Recommended.

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CD Review: “Eyes on the Prize” (The Freemans)

Featuring the #5 song of 2007 according to Singing News magazine, “He Chose Me,” the Freemans have put out another great recording with their latest release, Eyes on the Prize. ”

Larry Petree wrote three songs on this CD including the Freemans’ latest single, “Cast in the Sea,” “Cross Fire” (a great song about spiritual warfare), and “Rich As I Can Be,” featuring Darrell, Joe, and Caylon Freeman.

Gerald Crabb wrote “Put Me In That Crowd” and co-wrote the ballad “Grace I Remember” with Niles Borop.

Other songs include “Three Rugged Crosses,” “If God Doesn’t Have It,” and the old spiritual, “Eyes on the Prize,” which features Chris and Misty Freeman, Joyce Martin, Bo Hinson, The Dixie Echoes, and Jason Crabb.

I remember Darrell Freeman saying years ago that they would never put a “filler” song on one of their recordings and they have stayed true to that with this recording.

~Sony Elise

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CD Review: “London” (Legacy Five)

Legacy Five’s London album was released five years ago, when the group was at the pinnacle of the Southern Gospel field. The project came out in 2003; in the year following its release, the group had its first #1 song (“I Found Grace,” from this project) and swept the Singing News Fan Awards, winning Favorite Male Quartet and three of the five quartet positions (pianist, baritone, and bass).

Looking back on the projects recorded during the seven years Roger Bennett was with the group, this was probably their best. Only Strong in the Strength, their 1999 debut project, comes close in the area of song selection.

Listening to London is more than just listening to a CD. It’s an experience.

Here’s what I mean. The project starts off with a slow song, “Holy is Thy Name,” to give you a feel for the group and its sound. Then it has a string of three excellent songs–“I’ve Got That Old Time Religion” (an old convention song with orchestra), “It’s Good to Know” (a radio single), and “He Forgets” (a big hit ballad).

Then (also like many concerts) the album has a breather. The fifth through the seventh songs (“Meanwhile,” “Mercy Extended,” and “The God Who Comes Through”) compose this  slower middle section.

Then the album builds to a strong finish, where three of the strongest songs Legacy Five ever recorded (“Joy,” “I Found Grace,” and “Home Free”) punctuate the final five songs. Home Free is a quintessential Roger Bennett solo; this recording was one of three songs he recorded that were played at his funeral.

If there was a dictionary of Southern Gospel music, this album’s picture should be placed next to  the definition of “perfect song placement.” Sometimes I wonder if it is possible that this album’s placement could have been determined by the same person who chose the order for the songs on Monuments, their following project, which I’ve maintained since the album’s release would have been a much better project if the songs had been in a different order.

While we all wish we could have had Roger Bennett with us for many more years, at least he had the opportunity to leave us with a recording of this caliber during the years we did have him.

Rating: Highly Recommended. (5 stars of 5)

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CD Review: “Harmonies for the Heart” (Standing By)

Last week, we had quite a discussion over whether reviews by local groups should be featured on this blog. I am working on an idea I hope will satisfy most readers. In the meantime, before I finalize that post, I have a little bit of unfinished business. Before I made last week’s post, I had agreed to listen to and review Harmonies for the Heart, a project by Standing By, a duo based in Spencer, Indiana. The group is composed of Dave Miller (lead/bass guitar), Bruce Yates (baritone), and Yates’ wife Lynn (piano).

The project’s instrumentation is rather unusual for the modern Southern Gospel genre, consisting solely of piano and bass guitar (except on “Where No One Stands Alone,” which adds synthesized strings). The project features eleven familiar Southern Gospel songs, “He Set Me Free,” “Since Jesus Passed By,” “Where Could I Go,” “Boundless Love,” “Oh What a Savior,” “What a Day That Will Be,” “Where No One Stands Alone,” “Goodbye World Goodbye,” “He Loves Me,” “Lighthouse,” and “Sweet Sweet Spirit.”

The duo sings the lead and baritone parts on most songs, but on two of the project’s most interesting tracks, “Boundless Love” and “Oh What a Savior,” they move one part up to sing lead and tenor.

Probably the best move this group could make would be to add a third musical part. But even without a third part, the project is an enjoyable collection of familiar songs.

Rating: Enjoyable

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CD Review: “Everyday People” (Greater Vision)

Everyday People - Greater VisionI purchased this CD the week it came out, but I didn’t review it immediately for a very simple reason: On first listen, I didn’t particularly like it.

Of course, like just about everyone else, I liked the catchy opening tune, “It Means Just What it Says,” from the first time I listened to the album. But my initial view of the rest of the album was that it contained too many slow songs. But over time, the rest of the album grew on me, and I now consider it to be one of Greater Vision’s strongest recent releases.

Some of Greater Vision’s early projects started out with a fairly stripped-down sound, since that was what their budget permitted. After the late 90s, when they started cranking out radio hits and winning Singing News Fan Awards at a faster rate than any other group since the Cathedrals’ retirement, they could afford big orchestration, and several of their recent albums featured that heavy orchestration.

On this project, they returned to the stripped-down sound, and it works well for these songs. The album’s three standout uptempo songs, “It Means Just What it Says,” “God Will Pass By,” and “The First and Last,” just wouldn’t be the same with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

The album’s song placement is interesting; three of the album’s four uptemo songs are in the first four songs on the project; from songs five through eleven on the project, there’s only one more uptempo song, “As I Am.”

Among the album’s slower tracks, probably the two best are “Peace Like a River” (by Dianne Wilkinson) and “Too Much to Gain to Lose” (by Dottie Rambo).

Rating: Recommended.

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CD Review: “Together” (Gaither Vocal Band and Ernie Haase & Signature Sound)

Together - Gaither Vocal Band and Ernie Haase and Signature SoundWhile I did feature an interview with Doug Anderson, Ryan Seaton, and Tim Duncan when the Together CD/DVD was released, I’ve been admittedly tardy on posting my thoughts on the product itself.

First, the basics: The CD contains fifteen songs; the DVD contains twenty-three (plus two bonus tracks). The CD is a studio project where both groups sing together on every song; on the DVD, which was recorded live, fourteen of the fifteen songs from the CD are performed live. (The only one that’s not, “Oh, What a Time,” was recorded by both groups together on Signature Sound’s self-titled DVD.) In addition to the songs performed together, each group does two on its own, Gordon Mote does a solo, and the groups do a few songs together not included on the CD.

If you can purchase only one of the two, purchase the DVD. While the CD has a fairly low proportion of uptempo songs (5 or 6 out of 15), the DVD has enough other fast songs, comedy, and special effects to make the end result stronger.

One of the CD/DVD highlights is the new arrangement of “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven.” Unlike most of the other songs on the project, this song has not to my knowledge been done before by either group or in the Homecoming Series.

“Blow the Trumpet in Zion” was done on Israel Homecoming (2005), but as a choral selection, not featuring any group. If you are one of the many Southern Gospel fans currently in a church that sings Praise and Worship music, and your mind has sometimes drifted during worship service to wondering what an Integrity / Hosanna! praise chorus would sound like if done by a quartet, with a solid bass part, this song should grab your attention. Throw in the Israeli feel on the instrumentation, and this song is beyond doubt the most unique song on the project.

A fan of traditional Southern Gospel music will probably find “Heaven’s Joy Awaits” the most interesting segment of the DVD. When Bill Gaither announces that the next song will be “out of the Southern singing convention genre,” he is greeted by dead silence from an otherwise enthusiastic audience. He does get a laugh for his recovery, when he says, “I can kinda sense the excitement building in the room.” But then he walks the audience through how a convention song is structured, adding one part at a time. By the time he actually launches the track, thanks in part to the demonstration and in part to the comedic contributions of Kevin Williams and Rory Rigdon, he has completely won the audience over. By the end of the song, audience reaction demands three or four encores; counting the introductory section with the demonstration of the different parts, the DVD version of this song ends up clocking in at approximately twelve minutes.

Somehow Gaither managed to take a song in a style that got no enthusiasm when announced to the song that got the biggest audience response all evening. Throughout his career, Gaither has always had an affection for classic Southern Gospel songs. While he has experimented with different sounds throughout his career, often with notable success, he has never forgotten the style of music that got him hooked.

The DVD closes with “These are They,” a song I consider to be the project’s strongest big ballad. Both groups sing the song together, with solos by Doug Anderson, Marshall Hall, Wes Hampton, and Guy Penrod. Oddly enough, Hampton (the Gaither Vocal Band tenor) has a verse in a lower key than Penrod’s verse, the climax of the song. Penrod demonstrates a remarkable range for a lead singer, singing high C with a lead singer’s voice quality. No matter who may fill the tenor and baritone slots, the Gaither Vocal Band will be a powerhouse group for as long as Penrod is a member.

The CD and DVD are top-notch products. Nobody knows what the future may hold for Southern Gospel, or whether the genre will ever see the same level of national exposure that it has seen through the Homecoming Series. But whatever the future may hold, for now at least, Southern Gospel can be proud that it still has a Gaither.

CD rating: Recommended.
DVD rating: Highly Recommended.

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CD Review: “Hope” (The Browns)

Hope - The BrownsThe Browns, a family group based in LeMars, Iowa, have been quietly but steadily building a fan base and becoming one of Southern Gospel’s favorite family groups.

Roger Talley produced this project; Donna Beauvais (from Hope’s Call at the time the project was recorded) is listed as the vocal producer for “Out of This World,” “I’m Out of Here,” “Livin’ Askin’ Walkin’,” and “He Said My Name,” four of the best songs on the project.

“Outta This World” is a standout track on this project and was an obvious pick for a radio single. I would have predicted that it would do better than it did; it just missed breaking into the Singing News top 40, peaking at #43 on the October 2007 chart [EDIT, 11/8/10: The link is broken and has been removed.]. It did stay on the chart for five months, through the January 2008 chart.

Andrew Brown, the youngest Brown, is featured on “Come.” While I’ve enjoyed his novelty songs on previous projects, this song shows a greater artistic depth, a more serious side. Only a slightly awkward transition from a bridge (in G) to the final chorus (in D) keeps this song from being the best on the project.

The project closes with a cover of Dennis Jernigan’s “When I Get Home.” On first listen, this quiet, relaxed track might not stand out. But after listening through the project several times, this track became my favorite from the project. The arrangement is richly textured; I didn’t even notice the mandolin part until I had listened to the song ten or twelve times. Though the song was written as a praise song (and fits that genre well) the lyrics about Heaven and melody blend seamlessly into this Southern Gospel project.

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