3:1 CD/DVD Review: Hymns Collection (Triumphant Quartet)

Hymns Collection CD (Triumphant Quartet)3:1 Reviews offer three highlights of an album and one area that could have been improved.

1: Amazing Grace: The concept for this album was to take twenty hymns and deliver simple piano-and-voices-only arrangements. By and large, arrangements stayed within well-trodden territory (see below). There were several exceptions, and this song was one of them. Each member had a solo on a verse, and in a pleasantly surprising twist, baritone Scotty Inman sang the first half of his verse in a minor key. This set up a dramatic build tenor David Sutton’s soaring closing verse.

(The DVD performance is a harmonica-and-piano duet by David Sutton and Jeff Stice, not a vocal performance.)

2: All Hail the Power: After an album filled with largely familiar arrangements, this acapella album closer came as a welcome surprise. Descant harmonies and a big modulation make the arrangement equal parts exquisite and show-stopping.

3: DVD: The video image quality is strong; the group members are well-lit, and the camera work is professional. Overall, the arrangements come across well in a live setting—in a number of cases, even better than on the CD. 

There was no live audience; the group sat around a piano on a live concert stage while pianist Jeff Stice played piano. The group wasn’t going for an in-the-studio feel; it appeared to be a concert stage, with live concert lighting effects. These factors combined to leave the performances overall more subdued than you would find at a typical Triumphant Quartet live concert.

There were exceptions, though, most notably “Because He Lives.” Scotty Inman’s heartfelt introduction to and vocal delivery of “Because He Lives” made the song a stand-out.

In an unexpected twist, after the main program concludes, the DVD contains footage of their first Gaither Homecoming Tour performance, “The Old White Flag” from the Tent Revival taping. Fans were shocked when word came out that the performance had been cut from the final Homecoming DVD release. It gets a new lease on life with its inclusion here. 

:1: Familiar arrangements: By and large, the arrangements differed little from preceding quartets’ arrangements of these hymns. However, piano-driven performances can still have creative vocal arrangements—as several of the exceptions illustrate.

Traditional or Progressive: Traditional.

Group Members: David Sutton (tenor), Clayton Inman (lead), Scotty Inman (baritone), Eric Bennett (bass), Jeff Stice (piano).

CD Credits: Produced, arranged, and acoustic piano by Jeff Stice. Engineered, mixed, and mastered by Danny Brown at Southern Sound Studios, Friendsville, TN.

CD Song List: Sweet, Sweet Spirit; The Love of God; Heaven Came Down; The Longer I Serve Him; Precious Lord Take My Hand; When We All Get to Heaven; Precious Memories; What a Friend We Have in Jesus; The Cross Medley (The Old Rugged Cross/There’s Room at the Cross/At The Cross/When I Survey the Wondrous Cross); Amazing Grace; Because He Lives; The Blood Medley (Nothing But The Blood/Are You Washed In The Blood/There is Power in the Blood); Send the Light; How Great Thou Art; All Hail the Power.

Song Selection Creativity Meter: 25%. In place of radio single picks and an album rating, table projects featured in a 3:1 review are measured by a different metric—what percent of the songs on the album are pulled from outside of the 200 Most Frequently Recorded Southern Gospel songs.

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3:1 CD Review: Strength (Ball Brothers)

Strength (Ball Brothers)3:1 Reviews offer three highlights of an album and one area that could have been improved.

1: Not Anymore: This anthem, anchored by the vocals of Andy Tharp, easily makes a top-three list of the strongest songs the Ball Brothers have introduced (and/or introduced to our genre). It’s on par with “Mercy Said No” and “It’s About the Cross”; depending on your stylistic preferences, this track may even head your list.

The lyrics are thoughtfully crafted. The first verse discusses the waiting for the Messiah, “but not anymore.” The second chorus is from the perspective of the disciples right after the crucifixion, how they had hoped He would save them, “but not anymore.” Then, naturally, a bridge discusses the Resurrection, how the disciples witness that He “once was in the grave / but not anymore.” It’s obvious that a Southern Gospel song won’t quit with Jesus in the grave, but the story twists the lyric takes on its way to that conclusion are fresh and delightful.

2: All I Have To Be: New bass singer Chad McCloskey proves that the Ball Brothers haven’t slipped any with their new vocal lineup. This song features his upper baritone register, and is both one of the strongest songs and the strongest vocal performances on the album.

3: Over the Horizon: This fun, up-tempo song was introduced by 4HIM on their 1991 Face the Nation record. Brian Free & Assurance brought it into the Southern Gospel genre as the stellar opening track to their 2009 Acapella album; bass singer Jeremy Lile shone with a memorable walking bass part. While it would have been cool to hear how new Ball Brothers bass singer Chad McCloskey did with a walking bass part, the Ball Brothers’ rendition here sticks closer to the original 4HIM version. That’s not entirely a bad thing, as it works well for the group’s current sound and style and is the project’s strongest fast song.

:1: ?: It’s hard to pinpoint any specific weakness of the album. The group’s taste in arrangements and song selection tends to fall out of the mainstream of the groups currently dominating the charts. This, of course, gives them one of the most distinctive and easily recognizable sounds in our genre—a sound that remains consistent despite the lower half the group changing since their previous mainline album.

If you haven’t liked their previous albums, you probably won’t care for this one, either. But, on the flip side, if their previous albums have been your cup of tea, there is a good chance you will view this album as their strongest to date. Most of the songs and arrangements are in their wheelhouse, while tracks like “Not Anymore” transcend sub-genre and should appeal to virtually any Southern Gospel fan.

Traditional or Progressive: Progressive.

Credits: Tenor: Andrew Ball. Lead: Daniel Ball. Baritone: Andy Tharp. Bass: Chad McCloskey. Pianist: Cody McVey.

Song List: There is Hope; All I Have to Be; I Smile; Walk With Me; Eyes On You; Not Anymore; You Love Me Anyway; What If; Over the Horizon; To Ever Live Without Me.

Five-star songs: Not Anymore.

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3:1 CD Review: A Tribute to the Songs of Bill and Gloria Gaither (Booth Brothers)

A Tribute to the Songs of Bill and Gloria Gaither (Booth Brothers)Is it possible for truly great songs from truly great songwriters to be overdone?

If such a thing is possible, then our genre has probably never seen songs more overdone then those that have left the pens of Bill and Gloria Gaither. There’s no question that the songs themselves bear a timeless greatness. However, after hundreds of renditions, it is a nearly impossible task to offer a creative new arrangement that doesn’t traverse all-too-familiar ground.

That’s not all. The artist here has recorded projects so innovative that they have raised the bar for themselves as much as for the genre. It doesn’t matter if you are a newcomer or the genre’s most popular artist; it’s nearly impossible to top projects like The Blind Man Saw It All and Declaration.

Let it suffice to say that fans come to a Booth Brothers project with incredibly high expectations. Does A Tribute to the Songs of Bill and Gloria Gaither meet or surpass those expectations?

It all depends on how you look at it. This project does not have the exuberant progressive energy of The Blind Man Saw it All or the orchestrated majesty of Declaration. If you come to the project hoping for either direction—Gaither songs given a cutting-edge progressive treatment or a majestic orchestral treatment—you will walk away disappointed.

It seems they were aiming for an entirely different target. Yes, there are moments of brilliance, but it is brilliance of an completely different variety. The strongest moments on the album are both relatively subdued—”Through” and “Tell Me.” Both tracks are likely to go down in the annals of Southern Gospel lore as the definitive renditions, surpassing the previous benchmarks of the respective Gaither Vocal Band versions.”Through” is a lush masterpiece, a perfect capstone to the recording. The only moment on the album more exquisite than Melissa Brady’s guest solo on “Tell Me” is her duet with tenor Michael Booth on the “Like eagle’s wings” verse.

The two new songs are also worthy of mention; “I Played in the Band and Sang in the Choir” is a fun toe-tapper, while “Let the Healing Begin” is the strongest new Gaither composition since “A Picture of Grace.”

On first listen, the remaining eleven tracks may strike you as unremarkable. In point of fact, they do bear a surface resemblance to previous renditions. But dig a little deeper; it’s the subtle unison line here and the changed chord there that evince an understated (but very real) creativity.

This album isn’t the one you play during your morning workout. (That would be The Blind Man Saw it All.) It’s also not the one you play when you’re in the mood for a triumphant proclamation of the majesties of our God. (That would be Declaration.) If you’re looking for the next Declaration or Blind Man, you’re bound to walk away disappointed. This is the album you play in the quiet times—in the still of the night, in the valley, or at the close of a long day.

This, it seems, is the target for which the Booth Brothers were aiming. Many of the tracks are subdued, relaxing, and calming. The arrangements are so consistent that even the faster songs don’t seem out of place. Take one arrangement by itself, and it might not seem all that remarkable. But take each as a puzzle piece, and the bigger picture emerges. The arrangements share a sonic consistency that makes the project something to be experienced in its entirety.

Depending on what you’re looking for, this album is either an utter disappointment or a stroke of sheer genius. We think there is a place for albums for the quiet times in life, and we think this is the finest recorded in recent years. So we’ll take the latter interpretation and assign it five stars. 

Traditional or Progressive: Middle-of-the-road, with several traditional arrangements, and a few that incorporated enough electric guitars and/or brass to have a moderately progressive feel.

Credits: Produced by Nick Bruno, Ronnie Booth, Michael Booth, and Jim Brady. Musicians: Jason Webb and Gordon Mote (Piano, Keyboards, and B3); Dave Cleveland (Guitars); Glen Duncan (Fiddle); Scott Sanders (Steel Guitar); Mark Hill and Gary Lunn (Bass); Steve Brewster and Dan Needham (Drums). Orchestrations arranged and conducted by Steve W. Mauldin (Russell Mauldin on Through). Strings by the Nashville String Machine. Engineers: Jimmy Tarbutton, Bob Clark, and Doug Sarrett. Assistant Engineer: Eddy Joyner. Mixed by Joe Carrol and Jim Brady. Mastered by Hank Williams.

Song List: Because He Lives; I Played in the Band; God Gave the Song; There’s Something About That Name; Feeling at Home in the Presence of Jesus; I’ve Been to Calvary; Tell Me (with guest vocalist Melissa Brady); Joy in the Camp (with guest vocalist Bill Gaither); I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary; I Will Serve Thee; I’m Free; He Touched Me; I Just Feel Like Something Good Is About To Happen; Let The Healing Begin; Through.

Album Rating: 5 stars.

Five-star songs: Tell Me; Through. (However, almost all of the rest are four-star songs!)

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3:1 CD Review: Through the Night (The Perrys)

Through the Night (Perrys)3:1 Reviews offer three highlights of an album and one area that could have been improved.

1: Through the Night: The Perrys are at their best when they have a lyric that captures the stark contrast of the pain of the valleys of this life with the joy of deliverance—and a melody that leaves room for Joseph Habedank or (as here) Libbi Perry Stuffle to mix pathos and power. Whether or not you purchase the rest of the album, definitely get this song. 

2: When He Spoke: Joseph Habedank, a powerhouse lead singer, turns in his strongest performance of the album on “When He Spoke.” Bryan Walker also offers a strong powerhouse vocal before Libbi Perry Stuffle brings it home.

3: One Of These Mornings: Perhaps it’s not a monumental achievement on par with a “I Wish I Could’ve Been There” or even a “Damascus Road.” But it’s a solid, fun up-tempo song, the best on the project. It’s very sonically reminiscent of “Blue Skies Coming,” but with that song’s success, that’s far from a bad thing. 

:1: Song Selection: The vocal performances are spectacular. The arrangements are majestic. And the songs are . . . good. The only reason this wasn’t a five-star project, on par with a This is the Day, Look No Further, or Blue Skies Coming is that it could have used a few more spectacular songs.

Make no mistake, there’s not really a bad song on the whole project. The project is filled with good songs, and will not disappoint fans looking for a new dose of the encouragement and enthusiasm that always highlight a Perrys project. 

Traditional or Progressive: Middle-of-the-road.

Credits: Produced by Wayne Haun. Tracks recorded by Kevin Ward at The Sound Emporium Studio A, Nashville, TN. Vocals recorded by Justin Tropf and Kimmy Tarbutton at Daywind Sky Studios, and Terry Thompson at UpFront Studios. Orchestra arranged by Wayne Haun and recorded by Bobby Shin at Little Big Room, Nashville, TN. Musicians: Jason Webb (piano, B3, organ, rhodes); Scott Sanders (steel guitar, dobro); Kelly Back (electric and acoustic guitar); John Hammond (drums & percussion); Craig Nelson (bass guitar); Zak Shumate (drums); Wayne Haun (keyboard overdubs); Duncan Mullins (bass guitar); Randy Miller (harmonica); Bryan Sutton (banjo); Hans Nelson (keyboard overdubs); Roger Fortner (acoustic guitar); Steve Brewster (drums); Mark Hill (bass).

Song List: I Got A Hold of God This Morning (written by Kyla Rowland); Whosoever Will (written by Joel Lindsey, Wayne Haun, and Joseph Habedank); Everywhere I Go (written by Kirk Talley); Through the Night (written by Wayne Haun and Joel Lindsey); He Is Good To Me (written by Wayne Haun and Joseph Habedank); Too Good to Not Be True (written by Adina Bowman and Joseph Habedank); The Blood and Its Power (written by Kyla Rowland and Chris Binion); One of These Mornings (written by Joel Lindsey and Jeff Bumgardner); Unspoken Request (written by Joel Lindsey and Jeff Bumgardner); When He Spoke (written by Joel Lindsey and Jeff Silvey).

Album rating: 4 stars.

Five-star songs: Through the Night.

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3:1 CD Review: Live in Chicago (Cathedral Quartet)

Live in Chicago (The Cathedrals)3:1 Reviews offer three highlights of an album and one area that could have been improved.

After over fifteen years in the storage, this recording of a 1996 Cathedrals concert releases to the public on November 6th. Check our our interview about this project with former Cathedrals tenor Ernie Haase here

1: Song Selection and Pacing: Of the twelve songs on this project, ten are individually five-star performances. The other two are necessary for pacing—if every single song were a barn-burner or a huge anthem, the audience would be worn out.

The jokes, stories, and routines aren’t overdone—by and large, they are distinct enough from what you’ll hear on other Cathedrals live recordings that you’d be tempted to think George Younce was planning for this to be a live album and purposely came up with fresh material!

Roger Bennett’s testimony, coming on the tail end of his first battle with cancer, is a priceless treasure. It’s well worth getting the album for that alone.

2: “Heavenly Parade”: For years, Cathedrals fans have been talking about a favorite on-stage routine where Glen Payne would sing all four parts to the chorus. It’s finally captured in a recorded version, and it’s a delight. 

Also notable: Roger Bennett’s piano conclusion—the final few measures of the Hallelujah Chorus—is a delightful conclusion to the routine.

3: “I Thirst”: George Younce’s live version of “I Thirst” is exquisite. (Honestly, one could say the same of a half-dozen other tracks, but this format requires selecting the three brightest highlights.)

:1: Pretty much nothing: From song selection to pacing to performance quality, Live in Chicago is flawless. It is everything Cathedrals fans hoped it would be.

Live in Chicago was recorded within about a year of Alive! Deep in the Heart of Texas. So there is some overlap, but it’s hardly excessive. Only four songs appear on both (“Your Blesser Ain’t Never Been Blessed,” “Oh, What a Savior,” “Because He Lives,” and “Don’t Be Afraid.”)

Put simply: Every Southern Gospel fan should get this album.

Traditional or Progressive: Mixture of traditional and middle-of-the-road songs.

Credits: Group members: Ernie Haase (tenor), Glen Payne (lead), Scott Fowler (baritone and bass guitar), George Younce (bass and emcee), Roger Bennett (piano and vocals). Special guest appearance from Buddy Greene on harmonica on “Life Will Be Sweeter Someday.”

Song List: Oh Come Along; Step Into The Water; Your Blesser Ain’t Never Been Blessed; The Heavenly Parade; This Old House; Life Will Be Sweeter Someday; Oh, What a Savior; Jesus Saves; I Thirst; Because He Lives; Roger Bennett’s Testimony; Don’t Be Afraid; There Is A Fountain.

Rating: 5 stars. Easily.

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3:1 CD Review: Nothing But Love (Brian Free & Assurance)

Nothing But Love - Brian Free & Assurance

3:1 Reviews offer three highlights of an album and one area that could have been improved.

1: I Want To Be That Man: This song is a tribute to the power of a father who lived what he believed. Brian Free, whose father passed away two years ago, converts a passion for the lyric into the album’s strongest vocal performance.

2: Guard Your Heart: The number of songs address the theme of guarding our hearts are few enough that a new song on the topic inevitably draws comparisons to earlier ones. If you lined up this song in the sonic equivalent of a blind taste test with Steve Green’s 1989 track of the same name, a majority would likely lean toward the 1989 track.

All comparisons aside, though, this is a strong track on its own merits. An imperfect rhyme in the chorus is particularly well-phrased: “So, believer, don’t forget Whose you are / Guard your heart.”

3: Nothing But Love: The first two or three spins through the song, I had to resist the temptation to just press skip. By spin five, I couldn’t get it out of my head! It’s progressive enough to not be for everyone, but it’s actually quite catchy. 

:1: Almost…: The group’s previous album, Never Walk Alone (2010), was a monumental tour de force, earning a five-star rating in our glowing review. Albums of that caliber are almost impossible to top. While Nothing But Love isn’t an exception to the rule, it is almost as strong. It certainly has its moments of brilliance.

Traditional or Progressive: Very progressive, with some middle-of-the-road moments.

Credits: Group members: Brian Free, Bill Shivers, Derrick Selph, Jeremy Lile. Produced by Ricky Free.

Song List: Nothing But Love; It’s Quite a Valley; If the Lord Says Do It; I Will Be Praying; Guard Your Heart; There is Power; Calvary’s Cry; You Can Be a Bridge; I Want to Be That Man; Revival.

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3:1 CD Review: Be Still (Nathan Prisk)

Be Still - Nathan Prisk3:1 Reviews offer three highlights of an album and one area that could have been improved.

1: or :1? Piano-only tracks: This solo hymns project from Daybreak Quartet bass singer Nathan Prisk is as sparse as it gets—Prisk’s resonant, classically trained solo bass vocal and Tracey Phillips’ incomparable piano stylings. You will either love it or hate it. There aren’t huge orchestrations or background vocalists to cover imperfections—but they aren’t needed. Prisk’s voice is utter perfection.

2: “Be Still and Know”: One might think that dropping a Steven Curtis Chapman song directly between “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” and “Crown Him with Many Crowns” would be a disaster of stylistic dissonance. It’s not. Prisk interprets it so well that the average listener will assume it’s another hymn, albeit one they haven’t heard yet.

3: “In the Presence of the Lord”: Many bass singers avoid the upper portions of their range. Prisk’s classical training comes through; his upper range shines on this track and is as resonant as the lower register he is primarily known for. 

Traditional or Progressive: Traditional.

Song Selection Creativity Meter: 50%. In place of radio single picks and an album rating, table projects featured in a 3:1 review are measured by a different metric—what percent of the songs on the album are pulled from outside of the 200 Most Frequently Recorded Southern Gospel songs.

Credits: Produced by Nathan Prisk and Jason Prisk. Piano accompaniment by Tracey Phillips. Tracks recorded at Playground Studios, Nashville, TN. Engineered by Max Moon. Mixed and mastered by Jason Prisk.

Song List: I Sing the Mighty Power of God; Be Still and Know; Crown Him with Many Crowns; In the Presence of the Lord; Pass Me Not; Blessed Assurance; Declare His Glory; ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus; Stand By Me; I’d Rather Have Jesus.

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3:1 CD Review: Wonderful Words of Life (Mylon Hayes Family)

Wonderful Words of Life - Mylon Hayes Family3:1 Reviews offer three highlights of an album and one area that could have been improved.

1: The Voice of Truth: The song, written by Mark Hall and Steven Curtis Chapman, works so well in a Southern Gospel setting that it would be easy to assume it was original to the Hayes Family. It is actually a Casting Crowns remake, but works well in this setting.

2: The Finished Tapestry: Wendy Hayes’ alto voice is an excellent fit for this song, written by Rebecca Peck. It’s stylistically reminiscent of the Whisnants.

3: God Makes No Mistakes: The day of the funeral of Mylon’s father, Howard Hayes, Mylon’s 8-year-old daughter Kennedy walked up to him and started singing “God Makes No Mistakes.” The impact of the lyric at such an emotional time made the song an obvious choice for the album. When the Inspirations originally recorded it, they featured Mike Holcomb—one of the lowest bass singers in the world—on the first verse. Kennedy’s little-girl-soprano voice couldn’t be any more different, but it fits the song surprisingly well.

:1? Vocals: We already knew Mylon was a solid vocalist from his work with his family, the Hayes Family. Wendy is a solid alto. The three children’s voices are still young; both boys’ voices have changed out of the treble range, but haven’t yet reached full adult depth. However, it’s no accident that Mylon is an in-demand studio vocalist and a go-to specialist for vocal post-processing in Southern Gospel studio circles. Between the Hayes Family genes and having a vocal expert like Mylon at the helm, the children already show signs of growing into top-tier Southern Gospel vocalists.

Traditional or Progressive: Traditional to middle-of-the-road.

Album rating: 4 stars. Average song rating: 3.9 stars.

Credits: Group: Mylon Hayes (baritone), Wendy Hayes (alto), Connor Hayes, Bailey Hayes, Kennedy Hayes (soprano). Produced by Mylon Hayes. Arranged by Mylon Hayes and Sharon Hayes Hodges. Tracks recorded at Crowning Touch Studio, Stanley, NC. Engineers: James Rogers, Paul Rogers. Vocals recorded at Rushing Wind Studio, Dallas, NC, and engineered by Gary Rushing. Additional post production by Mylon Hayes. Mixed at Crossroads Studios, Arden, NC, by Scott Barnett. Musicians: Danny Crawford (piano, keyboards); David Johnson (Mandolin, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Steel Guitar, Fiddle); Mylon Hayes (Bass Guitar); Tony Creasman (Drums, Percussion); Milton Smith (orchestration on “Forever Written Down”).

Song List: Bigger Than any Mountain; How Great It Is; He is God; Forever Written Down; The Voice of Truth; Wonderful Words of Life; God Makes No Mistakes; The Finished Tapestry; I Want To Be More Like Jesus (with shaped notes); Little is Much When God is In It.

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CD Review: Lifetime (Mark Trammell Quartet)

Lifetime - Mark Trammell QuartetMost of the time, when a Southern Gospel group records an album of hymns and classic songs, it is a low-budget project with simple arrangements, basic soundtracks, predictable song selection, and no unifying theme. Lifetime is a shining exception to the rule.

Let’s start with the arrangements. Yes, Lari Goss brought his golden touch to the orchestrations. No, that doesn’t mean that the album is overloaded with slow anthems. In fact, four of the strongest tracks—”Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” “Way Past Ready,” “Wonderful Time Up There,” and “Meet Me Over on the Other Side”—are fast or at least on the fast side of mid-tempo.

The instrumental and vocal arrangements are fresh and creative. Mark Trammell could have been forgiven for reviving the unforgettable arrangement of “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” that he helped popularize fifteen years ago with Gold City. But he doesn’t; a prominent syncopated bass gives the track a distinctly different feel. Pat Barker’s bass solos are also remarkable; who would have thought of handing a bass singer songs that are traditionally a tenor solo (“Touring the City,” Archie Watkins’ signature song) and a soprano solo (“We Shall Behold Him,” Sandi Patty’s first signature song)?

Of course, though, Goss and Trammell are smart enough to avoid the trap of being different just to be different. Pat Barker’s feature on “Wonderful Time Up There” doesn’t stray far from previous versions. But it didn’t have to, because the track and vocals are executed with a precision and flair that makes this track the finest recorded version of the song to date. 

That’s not the only song that stays close to earlier versions but turns in the definitive version with a better execution. What Lari Goss did with the arrangement of “The King is Coming” is exactly what you would expect him to do with the song. But it’s a fastball that Mark Trammell, who has the solo, swings and hits into the stratosphere. 

As always with a full-budget Lari Goss project, there are a number of hymn bridges. It’s hard to pull off a hymn bridge that adds more than it detracts and distracts (see here), but several—”Footprints of Jesus” with “Where He Leads, I’ll Follow,” “Too Much to Gain to Lose” with “We Shall Behold Him,” and the whole “Garden City Tour Medley”—are quite effective. The only one that flows less smoothly than one might desire is the “I’m Free” pairing with “The King is Coming.”

New lead singer Nick Trammell joined part of the way through the recording process. He does not have any solo vocals, though his voice is a solid presence in the mix whenever the arrangement calls for the lead singer to anchor the quartet harmonies. Meanwhile, veterans Eric Phillips (tenor), Mark Trammell (baritone), and Pat Barker (bass) each turn in some of their career-strongest vocal performances.

In the booklet, Mark Trammell offers extensive autobiographical liner notes, tying each song on the album into his life story. Priceless details make this collection far greater than the sum of its parts. Just to name two: “Footprints of Jesus” was a song he sang with his brothers at the first revival he ever remembers attending, and “We’ll Tour the Golden City” was one of the songs he played with when learning to play bass guitar—and co-producer Lari Goss’s first orchestration!

Lifetime demonstrates the Mark Trammell Quartet’s diversity. Two of their previous three albums—Always Have a Song (2008, reviewed here) and Treasures (2011, reviewed here)—received five-star ratings on this site. The former was an album of new songs; the latter, a classics project with simpler, piano/bass/percussion-based arrangements. This album is of an entirely different variety—a lushly orchestrated album stylistically reminiscent of Greater Vision’s landmark Hymns of the Ages album, but with the added richness that a bass vocal adds to male harmonies. It turns out that the Mark Trammell Quartet is equally adept in this setting. 

Lifetime is a five-star album, and joins The Talleys’ Love Won as one of the two strongest albums released this year.

Traditional or Progressive: Middle-of-the-road / fully-orchestrated.

Credits: Group members: Eric Phillips (tenor), Nick Trammell (lead), Mark Trammell (baritone), Pat Barker (bass). Produced by Lari Goss and Mark Trammell.

Song List: Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah; ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus; Way Past Ready; Garden City Tour Medley; Too Much to Gain to Lose; Meet Me Over on the Other Side; Footprints of Jesus; I Sing the Mighty Power; The King is Coming Medley.

Average song rating: 4.5 stars.

Rating: 5 stars.

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3:1 CD Review: Canton Junction (Canton Junction)

Canton Junction - Canton Junction3:1 Reviews offer three highlights of an album and one area that could have been improved.

1: Production Quality: This two-disc, twenty-song set sounds incredible. Perhaps it stands to reason that baritone Michael Sykes, who has produced many of the Gaither Vocal Band’s most-acclaimed releases, would bring top-tier production quality to his own group’s album. He does; track and production quality is every bit as strong as you would find on a Gaither Vocal Band release.

What might be surprising is that the vocal performances are actually stronger. Tenor Matt Hagee and lead singer Aaron Crabb both come from family group backgrounds (the John Hagee Family and the Crabb Family, respectively), but both adapt amazingly well to the male quartet setting. Bass Tim Duncan has an almost unrivaled quartet resumé for someone his age; after spending three years as Poet Voices’ final bass singer (1999-2002), he spent eight years with Ernie Haase & Signature Sound (2002-January 2011). When it comes to ensemble sound, Canton Junction is easily in the top five in Southern Gospel (perhaps top three), and also easily the strongest on the progressive end of the spectrum.

In other words, in every aspect except song selection—an area where Gaither has an indisputable advantage by being the most prestigious Southern Gospel artist on the road today—Canton Junction is on par with or even stronger than the Gaither Vocal Band. That is no small feat for a brand-new group on its debut project.

2: Rusty Goodman remakes: Since Michael Sykes is Rusty Goodmans’ son-in-law (he’s married to Rusty’s daughter Tanya Goodman Sykes), it might not be terribly surprising that the album includes two Rusty Goodman songs, “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now” and “Who Am I.”

What might be more surprising is what he’s done with them. He has transformed both songs into straight-ahead, in-the-groove, driving quartet harmony songs. They sound like the versions he’s been waiting for a chance to make. He’s honed his skills producing the likes of the Gaither Vocal Band and the Oak Ridge Boys, and he uses those skills to reinterpret these songs for a new generation of fans.

3: Sweeter As The Days Go By: This live version of the song that got it all started for Canton Junction is a sonic delight. Canton Junction’s first (public, released) appearance was with this video—a performance so strong that it earned more than 80,000 views in a matter of months, practically unheard-of numbers in Southern Gospel. It was a pleasant surprise to hear the live version included here.

:1: You can have too much of a good thing: It is entirely understandable why the group recorded twenty tracks. Most groups need that many in their repertoire for live concerts. They probably figured that if they were going to record that many tracks anyhow, they may as well put them all into a two-CD set. Songs like “Dig a Little Deeper,” “Softly and Tenderly,” and “Go, Tell it on the Mountain” will certainly have their place in the live concert setting, but seem out of place here. But had Canton Junction selected the strongest ten or twelve tracks, this would have easily been a five-star recording.

In fact, SouthernGospelBlog.com has only handed out one five-star rating this year so far—to this album of Stamps classics. Had Canton Junction whittled the list down to the ten or twelve strongest songs, this album would have easily been the strongest recording of the year, to date.

Traditional or Progressive: Middle-of-the-road to progressive.

Album rating: 4.5 stars.

Credits: Group members: Matthew Hagee (tenor), Aaron Crabb (lead), Michael Sykes (baritone), Tim Duncan (bass). Produced by Michael Sykes and Aaron Crabb. Mixed by: Pete Greene, Ronnie Brookshire, Steve Allen, and Nathan Zwald. Mastered by: Glenn Meadows. Engineers: David Young, Steve Allen, Robert Smith, Ron Fairchild, Brandon Shattuck, Mark Drury, Mark Capps, Nathan Zwald, Pete Greene, Grayson Rogers, Kendall Ryan, Marshall Young, Cary Smith, Jake Burns, Bob Clark. Assistant Engineers: Taylor Pollert, John Furr, Josh Papp. Digital Editing: Robert Smith, David Young, David Ponder. Recorded at: Difference Media, San Antonio, TX; Cornerstone Church, San Antonio, TX; Square One Studio, Franklin, TN; Sony Tree, Nashville, TN; Beech Creek Studios, Nashville, TN; The Tracking Room, Nashville, TN; Loud Recording, Nashville, TN; SoundShop Recording, Nashville, TN; Classic Recording, Franklin, TN; Sound Emporium, Nashville, TN. Piano, Keyboards: Gary Prim, Gordon Mote. B3 Organ: Gordon Mote, Justin Ellis. Drums: Steve Brewster, Scott Williamson, John Hammond. Bass: Duncan Mullins, Mark Hill. Acoustic Guitar: Joel Key, John Willis. Electric Guitar: James Mitchell, Kelly Back, Jeff King. Steel Guitar and Dobro: Steve Hinson. Harmonica: Randy Miller. Fiddle, Mandolin, Banjo: Bruce Watkins. Violins: Pam Sixfin, Conni Ellisor, Alan Umstead, David Davidson, Kathy Umstead, Karen Winkelman. Violas: Jim Grosjean, Elizabeth Lamb. Cellos: Carol Rabinowitz, Julie Tanner. Strings Arranged and Conducted by: Steve W. Mauldin. Strings Performed by: The Nashville String Machine, Carl Gorodetzky (Contractor).

Song List: DISC 1: I Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ For My Journey Now; Show Me Your Way; Heaven Is; The Son Shines Down on Me; Who Am I; Go Tell it on the Mountain; Coming Home; Softly and Tenderly; The Inviting Christ; My Savior’s Love. Disc 2: Sweeter as the Days Go By; You Are So Beautiful; What a Wonderful World; Glorify; Dig a Little Deeper in God’s Love; Going Home; Since Jesus Came Into My heart; In the Valley He Restoreth My Soul; Hold On; Smile.

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