I heard a regional group, the Colonial City Quartet, on Saturday evening. This was my first concert by a regional group. After all I’ve read on various message boards putting down the quality of local groups, I frankly was not expecting much. I was expecting rough harmonies, continual notes that were too sharp or too flat, and a low tenor and high bass.
I had set my expectations too low. The Colonial City Quartet had a good stage presence and a polished group sound. In my opinion, their group sound was at least as polished as the sound of most other groups I’ve heard live–the Palmetto State Quartet, Legacy Five, and the Blackwood Brothers come to mind. Understand that I’m not putting down those three groups; I’m just saying that the Colonial City Quartet had a polished group on par with these three groups.
The group is led by baritone Tim Campbell, who has been with the group since its inception about twenty years ago. Although he doesn’t look anything like Jake Hess, his stage mannerisms and facial expressions when on a feature reminded me of Hess.
Campbell’s brother-in-law, Mike Deane, sings the bass part. While I did not take a pitch pipe (and would not have used it, since I ended up in the front row), Deane was able to produce the low, subwoofer-rattling notes that make the floor shake. The group sang several songs originally recorded by a mixed group and arranged with a soprano in mind, taking the track several keys lower; Deane was able to handle the lower bass part without difficulty.
The lead singer, Wynn Baker, did an able job at singing lead. I must confess that I wasn’t paying that much attention to his voice for the first few minutes, though. I was trying to determine where I had seen him before. (It turns out I sat directly behind him at the Palmetto State Quartet concert I attended last month.)
I suppose I had set my expectations the lowest for the tenor. For some reason I wasn’t expecting that a local group wouldn’t have a true first tenor. I was wrong. Baritone Tim Campbell’s son David joined the group relatively recently, after singing for several years with another local group, the Heaven’s Harmony Quartet. David Campbell looks and sounds enough like original Legacy Five tenor Josh Cobb to the point where I briefly wondered if Cobb had possibly returned to Southern Gospel music. David has the range and confidence at the high notes that Cobb had, although Campbell’s voice quality is smoother and less strained.
The group started out singing their first song (“He is the Alpha and Omega”) in unison. After they sang unison for the first two verses, I was beginning to wonder if they knew how to sing in harmony, and was thinking that it could be a long night. But they broke into parts for the chorus, and I started forming my aforementioned high opinion of their smooth blend.
The second song, “Glory Road,” featured David Campbell on tenor. David proved that he could handle the Kingsmen style of tenor singing well.
The tempo picked up a bit with the third song, a cover of Gold City’s “That Little Baby,” featuring baritone Tim Campbell and lead Wynn Baker. The fourth song the group did was entitled “I’m on My Way.”
The group did their version of the Dove Brothers’ “Didn’t it Rain,” featuring Tim Campbell singing the solo. The group used the Dove Brothers’ soundtrack for the song. Interestingly, tenor David Campbell sang “rain” twenty-four times (if I counted correctly), instead of the typical twelve in the answer-back portion of the song.
Lead singer Wynn Baker was featured on “They Never Walked on the Water.” Mike Deane sang the J.D. Sumner classic “God Made a Way,” and, in case you were wondering, did take it down an octave where bass singers who can take it down do take it down.
After this song, Tim Campbell told David, who was also operating the minidisc player, to play another old song. David complained that they did too many old songs, at which there was some father-son discussion about old people and old songs. The discussion ended with Tim telling David that he liked old songs and that the audience liked old songs. Although that got a round of applause, David was still acting as though he would not play the old song. At that point, a storm outside caused the church lights to flicker. At this, Tim Campbell told his son, “Son, God likes old music, too!” While the rest of the routine was probably rehearsed, this obviously spontaneous line got the biggest laugh of the night.
At this, the group launched into “Gonna Open Up All the Doors of My Heart,” a rendition that was made most memorable by the facial expressions of David Campbell, who acted as though he did not want to sing the song except when his father would look at him, at which he would smile for a few lines.
After a song whose title I did not catch because I could not understand the words of the chorus (something along the lines of “Nothing that You and Me Together Can’t Handle”), David Campbell introduced “Hide Thou Me” by explaining that he actually did like old songs and old people.
The quartet did the first of several a capella numbers with “Life’s Railway to Heaven.”
They sang their next song, “The Old Landmark” twice. The first time, both Wynn Baker and David Campbell forgot several lines in their feature, so they did it a second time. Wynn got his lines right the second time, but David did not. He started the track a third time, but the rest of the group stopped him. It was not immediately clear to me whether the mistakes were intentional or not; they could have been mistakes, but on the other hand they joked about singing “a song that we actually know” for the rest of the night. On the one hand, it could have been a planned part of the routine; on the other hand, if it was an actual mistake, the group is comfortable enough with themselves on stage to be able to joke about themselves under the circumstances.
The first half closed with their rendition of the Cathedrals’ “Jesus Saves.”
After intermission, Wynn Baker was featured on “He Made a Change.” It was rather different to hear a country-tinged voice on the verses. (Baker is, incidentally, the only singer with a country twang in the group, and his twang is not evident in the group harmony.)
David Campbell went to the piano to accompany the group on a medley of “I Must Tell Jesus” and “Learning to Lean.”
The group did the Talleys’ “I Love the Lord / Total Praise,” taking a song that some would not think of as a quartet song and giving it a nice four-part harmony arrangement.
Bass Mike Deane introduced the next song, an a capella rendition of “Wonderful Grace of Jesus,” by referring to his love for the Cathedrals’ music. That got a response from the audience, especially the front row. 🙂 The rendition was executed well, even the transposition in the middle of the song.
The highlight of the concert was David Campbell’s rendition of “I Bowed on My Knees and Cried Holy.” When he introduced the song, I honestly wasn’t expecting much, figuring that the song needed a power singer along the likes of Michael English or Guy Penrod to do it justice. It turns out I’d underestimated David and the rest of the group. Whether on recording or live, I have never heard a rendition as powerful as this one. Campbell can do something most tenors only wish they could do; throughout the song, wherever there was a high note, he would back the microphone off until it was at waist level and project the high notes across the sanctuary with little if any amplification.
After audience sing-alongs on “How Great Thou Art” and “He Touched Me” and an altar call, the Colonial City Quartet closed with the song “Jerusalem.” They used the original arrangement transposed down several keys.
Throughout the concert, the group did an excellent job of starting well and ending better. For example, they sang in unison for the first two verses of the first song, leaving those hearing them for the first time wondering if they knew how to sing harmony. Then when they did break into harmony parts, the effect was somewhat more impressive than it would have been had they started with a classic harmony song.
Another example: For the first two songs, the group stood behind their microphones and sang. By this point, I was wondering if they would do that all night. But they set the stands aside with the third song, moved around on stage, and even did some choreography (on “Get Away Jordan”).
A final example would be the song selection. When I attend concerts by certain groups, I expect to hear a “moment,” a signature song that is the highlight of the concert. With the Cathedrals, it would have been “We Shall See Jesus”; with Brian Free & Assurance concert, “For God So Loved”; with Signature Sound, “Oh, What a Savior.” But I wasn’t expecting any such “moment” from the Colonial City Quartet. Yet they surprised me with David Campbell’s rendition of “I Bowed on My Knees and Cried Holy.” I wasn’t expecting a song selection that built up to a big finish like that, but they did it, and did it well.
All in all, it was a well-planned concert routine for a local group. Start off slowly; if the audience members have made the effort to come out, they won’t get up and leave after a song or two. You have them for the evening; don’t show them everything you can do in the first three songs and leave them bored by the end. Build to a big finish, saving the best for last. That is something that the top groups do, and they are on top for a reason.
In all honesty, I think Colonial City Quartet is content to remain a regional group, even though they have a good enough group blend to be successful outside of the region. But I would not be shocked to see more from David Campbell; he is somewhat younger than the other members of the group, and I would not be shocked to see him get the call from a professional group some day.