CD/DVD Review: Fear Not Tomorrow (Collingsworth Family)

Just two years ago, I was saying this about the Collingsworth Family:

The Collingsworth Family doesn’t have years of mega-hits. In fact, other than two or three of Kim’s piano solos, they have few if any songs instantly recognizable to a casual Southern Gospel fan. But this video shows their special talent at taking what may be, on average, 3.75 to 4 star material and putting on a 5-star program. (From the Your Ticket to Music Hall CD/DVD review.)

But last year, they released their first album of 5-star material. So it is safe to say they had a high bar to meet with a DVD of songs largely drawn from The Answer.

Knowing this, they pulled out all the stops. They filmed in high definition and brought in a live orchestra of members from three Michigan symphony orchestras (as the project was filmed in Flint, MI), including strings, brass, and woodwind sections, and a harp player—and Wayne Haun, who created and produced the original arrangements, to conduct them. They also had a live band with a bass guitarist, drummer, and additional piano player. This is the first Collingsworth project to have an additional piano player—and they made a stellar choice in Stan Whitmire, as he is a pianist who can shine but chooses to blend into the background and leave the focus on the featured vocalists.

The song list is largely drawn from The Answer; there are also two new songs/arrangements, an exquisite acapella rendition of “Take Time to be Holy” and a new Kim Collingsworth piano solo, “The Holy City.” Kim only had one piano solo on The Answer, “Great is Thy Faithfulness”; it is also rendered here, as is “Meeting in the Air” from 2003’s Strength for the Journey.

The cinematography and lighting is excellent and nearly flawless; one cut-in shot of an oboe player at 1:19:06 (79:06) is squished from a widescreen to a narrower fullscreen aspect ratio, but the error is minor enough to not be all that distracting.

There is little point in a song-by-song commentary, as most of the songs have already been discussed in detail in the review of The Answer. The songs are already memorable, but these live renditions make them unforgettable. Though Southern Gospel tracks are frequently fully orchestrated, there have been only about a half-dozen single-group live videos with a full orchestra. (A few Gaither Homecoming videos have a small strings section). Between the orchestra, the live band, and a guest pianist, the Collingsworth Family had musicians on hand to replicate virtually every note found on the studio renditions live. This is how Southern Gospel videos should be recorded.

Fear Not Tomorrow had a high bar to meet. But it doesn’t merely clear the bar; the impeccable song selection and the exquisite audio/visual production quality raises the bar for Southern Gospel videos.

Produced by: Jim Hammond. • Group Members: Phil, Kim, Brooklyn, Courtney, Phil Jr., and Olivia Collingsworth. • Review copy provided. • Song list: I Shall Not Be Moved (Daryl Williams, Marty Funderburk); Ever Gentle, Ever Sweet (Stephen Adams); The Meeting (Mae Taylor Roberts); Oh the Thought that Jesus Loves Me (Wayne Haun, Lyn Rowell); Count Your Blessings (Daryl Williams, Wayne Haun); The Good Ole Days (Jamie O’Hara); Bottom of the Barrel (Phil Collingsworth); Take Time to be Holy (William Longstaff, George Stebbins); I Want a Principle Within (Charles Wesley); When the Roll is Called Up Yonder (James Black); Fear Not Tomorrow (Carolyn Atkins); I Know (Gerald Crabb); Great is Thy Faithfulness (Thomas Chisholm); Jesus is Still the Answer (Lanny Wolfe); Wonderful Grace of Jesus (Haldor Lillenas); I Want Jesus More than Anything (Don Marsh); The Holy City (Frederick E. Weatherly, Stephen Adams). • Average song rating: 4.3 stars. DVD rating: 5 stars. CD rating: 5 stars.

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Off Topic: DVD: The Free Ride

Normally, when I do an off-topic post about a DVD or book release, it is in the form of a review. But, in the interest of full disclosure, this will be less partial than a review since I volunteered during filming, was an extra in a closing scene, and am good friends with several of the cast and crew.

Many stories can be told in twenty rhyming lines and four minutes. A few cannot. For those, the incipient potential in the independent Christian film movement has intrigued me for several years. I have reviewed two here before, The Runner from Ravenshead and The Widow’s Might. Both of those have been nominated for Best Feature Film in the leading Christian film festival, the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival. (Last year, The Widow’s Might won the Best of Festival prize.) The Free Ride, released by Sanctum Entertainment, is one of the nominees this year.

The story centers around a former professional bicycle racer who was evicted from the sport after using performance-enhancing drugs, and his son who is dying from a rare disease (for which the only treatment is one his now-unemployed father cannot afford). The father is offered the chance to take part in a race with a cash prize that would pay for the treatment.

The story is well crafted, accessible, and, crucially, coherent. While some films feel overly episodic (incidentally, the largest reason I did not feature The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry here), this film’s scenes flow smoothly together into a single, compelling narrative.

Virtually all the actors, including the two main characters, were amateurs. But the writer/director knew he would likely be working with amateurs, so he wrote fewer of the emotionally charged scenes one finds in other films. But in those scenes that require passion and emotion, the actors pull off believable performances—and the story is strong enough that it doesn’t need good acting to carry a weak narrative.

(Spoiler alert) I will admit to a bias for movies with happy endings, and this movie has an ending that brings to mind It’s a Wonderful Life. So if you’re looking for a depressing film where everyone ends up dead or hating each other, look elsewhere. (End spoiler alert) The film is family-friendly, with none of the language or nudity that poisons run-of-the-mill secular releases. The only thing I noticed that would raise a few eyebrows would be the main character’s cigarette use at the start of the film; this is presented as a flaw in what starts out as a very flawed character, and is (visually, though not verbally) resolved later in the film.

The Free Ride is a heartwarming family film that I am delighted to recommend.

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Off Topic: DVD Review: The Runner from Ravenshead

The Runner from RavensheadTo me, the essence of what makes music compelling is not the melody, the arrangement, or the quality of the vocal—though all three will affect whether I like a piece. The heart is the story that is told in that four-minute time span, those twelve, sixteen, or twenty lines. This is why my efforts in Southern Gospel—apart from running this site—have been focused on studying the craft of songwriting.

But as everyone who has put pen to paper and attempted to form a song has eventually discovered, not all stories can be told in sixteen lines.

Ever since shortly after creation, cultures have had songs. Though styles have changed, songs have been a constant through the six thousand years of earth history. But the format in which those longer stories are told has changed through the centuries—oral traditions, books, magazines, and films. As our culture seems to allot a steadily decreasing amount of time for reading, films are becoming the primary method through which those longer stories are told. And even as YouTube shortens the average cultural attention span, feature-length films are becoming the last bastion of in-depth storytelling in our culture.

For several years, I have been watching the development of the independent Christian films movement with interest—enough, in fact, to contemplate starting a separate site solely devoted to covering this small but growing genre. But there just aren’t enough news items or DVD releases yet to sustain a steady stream of posts on the topic. So (to my regular readers), please pardon an occasional deviation from our typical topics of discussion.

On to the film. The Runner from Ravenshead is an allegory. The five actors are all siblings under the age of ten; their parents wrote, produced, and directed the film.

I have seen so many poorly done allegories, whether on film or elsewhere, that I am generally rather skeptical of the genre. Almost always, there is either a strong story but the application is a stretch, or the application is so much in the forefront that there isn’t much of a story at all. All too often, allegories do all your thinking for you.

The Runner from Ravenshead is one of those rare exceptions. There is an engaging story that is enjoyable on its own merits. And the allegory could be interpreted on several levels—on one level, as a story of salvation, and on another, as a picture of the trials those who are already Christians face on an ongoing basis.

The acting is convincing. Each of the five children played more than one part (more on that later), so it does take the first 10% or 15% of the film to really establish who’s who in your mind. But the children did such a good job at keeping roles separate that characters are clearly defined by the end of the first third. Especially for children, and even more for children in their first film, the actors do an incredible job portraying a wide range of emotions, from despair to frustration to embarrassment to joy. (And it doesn’t hurt anything that what another reviewer aptly termed “the cute factor” is through the roof.)

One of the first things that caught my eyes about the film was the fact that the soundtrack was recorded by the Prague FILMharmonic Orchestra. Perhaps that might not ring a bell for the person on the street, but I hear that and two things immediately come to mind—the Gerald Wolfe arrangement of “Oh Holy Night” and the Kim Collingsworth piano solo “How Great Thou Art,” both of which feature the Prague orchestra. The soundtrack quality does not disappoint; though never overwhelming the dialogue, it adds a rich texture throughout that only live orchestras can create.

The film was made in Oregon, and the scenery is diverse and breathtaking, from mountain vistas to marshes to sets built to match the childrens’ height. Between the locations, the acting, and the score, the film feels more like a major-budget Hollywood production than a tiny independent film produced on a shoestring budget.

Like any other film, there are a few week points; two bear mentioning. First, it’s not clear until probably ten minutes into the film that the opening scenes are part of a daydream. An opening shot prior to the daydream sequence would have gone a long way toward establishing this; as it was, I spent the first ten minutes of the film wondering where it was going, rather than really grasping the storyline.

Second, the fact that each child has at multiple major roles in the film is more a drawback than a selling point. Between excellent costuming and excellent acting, the actors and directors did a decent job of keeping roles separate, but it still would have been a little better to have separate actors for each role (provided, of course, they were similarly talented).

Songs and scripts written by adults for children frequently sound more like something an adult wants a child to say than something a child would naturally say. With one minor exception, a brief scene where the dialogue seemed somewhat above what children that age would naturally say, the film did an exceptionally good job of keeping the emotions and verbal exchanges true to the age and ability of the actors. Not that it’s childish; it’s childlike. And the truth gets through; the film’s most memorable moment, other than the closing scene, is an exchange in which a sell-out in league with the bad guys challenges one of the good guys for granting mercy, and the necessity of mercy is expressed in a clear and simply beautiful way.

There are very, very few films, Christian or otherwise, to which I would give an unqualified recommendation. Whether from Christian or secular producers, virtually every film seems to have either a weak storyline, a weak presentation (due to acting, production, or both), or weak morals (whether from inappropriate language, apparel, or storyline). It’s not that The Runner from Ravenshead is without a few minor flaws—every movie has a few goofs—but while those are just enough to merit bumping a half-star off of a perfect rating, this film is still strong enough to earn an unqualified recommendation.

Rating: 4.5 stars. Available from: Producer.

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DVD Review: Sing Out America Vol. 1 (Various Artists)

Mansion Entertainment recently issued a video series from the Sing Out America television program on DVD. While most of the entries in the series focus on a specific group, this opening volume offers ten songs from ten groups.

  • Children Go Where I Send Thee (The Florida Boys). Les Beasley takes the lead; other personnel on this song are Glen Allred, Buddy Liles, and (possibly) Rick Busby on tenor. Darrell Stewart’s contagious enthusiasm shows how he got a generation of future pianists hooked on the genre. The Florida Boys’ years of experience in front of the video camera gives their delivery a relaxed confidence that few groups before or since have approached.
  • My Tribute (The Blackwood Brothers). Though the song is billed as “the Blackwood Brothers featuring Jimmy Blackwood,” it is actually Jimmy singing solo with invisible backup singers. That caveat aside, he offers a strong rendition of this Andraé Crouch tune, with a powerful and high finish. Movie actors in Hollywood are told not to look directly into the camera for more than two or three seconds, as it can produce an almost creepy effect, and very few can pull it off. This is something that, for whatever reason, seems to happen quite frequently in Southern Gospel videos, particularly studio tapings.
  • My Assurance (The Dixie Echoes). This was taped in 1982 or 1983, with Eddie Broome featured on tenor – thus placing it within the last year or so of lead singer Dale Shelnut’s life. Randy Shelnut is on baritone, and, chronologically, it would make sense for Randy Allred to be the bass singer. A brief camera angle selection focusing on Dale Shelnut congratulating Broome on his performance right after the song is a delightful bonus.
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DVD Review: Jubilee

This DVD is a live recording based on the songs on a joint Booth Brothers / Legacy Five / Greater Vision CD released last year. I reviewed the CD here; if you missed it when it first came out, it’s worth re-visiting  for some background on the project.

The DVD includes the ten songs from the CD and an additional song, a “Keep on the Firing Line” piano duet with Tim Parton and Gerald Wolfe.

Two of the most memorable highlights actually came from mistakes. First, Scott Fowler unplugged his guitar right as the piano duet got under way, and spontaneous comedy ensued. Second, Gerald Wolfe forgot to have Jim Brady sing his line in “Better Hurry Up” at the proper time, having him come in one chorus late. This resulted in Scott Fowler not singing his line at all. When Fowler mentioned this after the song, Greater Vision started into an a capella encore to get it done right; Tim Parton caught up on the piano and picked up the beat within a few bars of music. Sometimes the best way to recover from a mistake is to keep the camera rolling, and the brilliant recoveries more than saved the day—they made it.

Most of the live performances closely match the CD recording; one unexpected highlight was “Jesus is Coming,” featuring the Booth Brothers with Glenn Dustin. On the CD, it brought the words “slow ballad” to mind; live, a “big ballad” that brought a rousing standing ovation.

The extras are a fun snapshot of the members’ families at the time of the taping, mentioning current interests of the children. Legacy Five’s a capella rendition of the old Blackwood Brothers classic “Rolling, Riding, Rocking” (while in a boat) is a delightful highlight of the extras.

The hand-held shots in the boat were sometimes distracting—a good rule of thumb in film work is that if you have a shot that has the viewer’s mind on the camera instead of the subject, you’ve missed the purpose. But the excellent cinematography in the main program more than made up for that. The lighting, camera positions, and angle choices easily made this one of the best non-Gaither Southern Gospel videos in recent years. The post-production was also excellent; either the lighting was exceptional or there was some well-done color correction (so shots from different angles match). Whatever the procedures used to arrive there, though, this video has some of the best image quality from a technical standpoint seen in recent years, and is a pleasure to watch.

Rating: 5 stars.Review copy provided. ♦ Song list:  The Happy Jubilee; Come Unto Me; He Pilots My Ship; I Can Hardly Wait; In the Sweet By and By; Someone Who Cares; Keep on the Firing Line; Better Hurry Up; Life Will Be Sweeter Someday; Jesus is Coming; Jesus Will Hear Me When I Pray.

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DVD Review: The Best of the Jubilee Years (Dixie Echoes)

store_img-dvdvintageIn 1997, Bill Gaither released the Dixie Echoes’ entry in the Best of the Jubilee Years series. This was recently re-issued on DVD.

As the title suggests, the footage is culled from the Dixie Echoes’ numerous appearances on the Gospel Singing Jubilee TV series. Some of the footage is in (faded) color; other is in black and white. Though there is some image deterioration, the image quality is overall decent.

Unlike some Gaither compilations, there is no commentary between songs. This is overall a plus (for this particular project), but subtitles indicating which lineup was on each song would have been nice.

The studio setting doesn’t quite capture the charisma the Dixie Echoes would convey on the live concert stage. But it is still enjoyable and worth purchasing, if for no other reason than this: So many Southern Gospel legends came through the group in the 60s and 70s, and this is rare footage of them live in that era. Take Tim Riley on “After Awhile,” or Larry Ford on a number of songs, or J.G. Whitfield on some of the earlier, black-and-white footage. Ken Turner is featured on the classic “How Big is God,” a song frequently identified with the Blackwood Brothers, a year or two before he joined them. It’s also fun to watch Randy Shelnut’s stage presence and voice improve over the multi-year period from which this footage is culled. Of particular note is “Because He Lives,” where his voice is unmistakably recognizable to anyone who has heard it more recently.

This is an excellent compilation, worth 4.5 stars. The audio quality is excellent, and at over 25 songs, one can’t complain over a too-limited selection. There were only two reasons a half-star was deducted from the maximum possible score. First, in an unusual slip for a Gaither project, the song list on the cover is a typographical mess, with multi-letter strings randomly pulled from one song title and inserted in another. Second, if the technology hasn’t yet been invented, hopefully one of these days technology will be invented which allows television footage from the era to be cleaned up, with edge bleed and other artifacts removed.

But those are minor quibbles. Overall, this is an excellent project, a welcome addition to the collection of any fan of Southern Gospel music from that era.

Rating: 4.5 stars. ♦ Produced by: David Armstrong. ♦ Available from: Artist. Review copy provided. ♦ Song list: My Non-Stop Flight to Gloryland; Oh Happy Day; He’ll Pilot Me; After Awhile; Because He Lives; How Big is God; I Gave Up Misery; More than Just a Swear Word; I Can Tell You the Time; I’ve Been Born Again; Give Up; I Will Serve Thee; I Must Tell Jesus; One Day at a Time; Good Old Gospel Song; I’m Free; Mama’s Teaching Angels How to Sing; Little is Much; Now I Have Everything; On the Jericho Road; Talk About Jesus; Living By Faith; On the Way Home; Peace in the Valley; Walk With Me; We’ll Soon Be Done with Troubles and Trials.

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DVD Review: Grand Finale (Crabb Family)

Crabb Family - Grand FinaleThe Crabb Family retired over two years ago; they announced their retirement in August 2006 and came off the road in August 2007. New Haven Records—a label that is probably best known for their compilations of recordings from Southern Gospel legends—recently released a DVD of the Crabb Family’s final video performance as a group.

Until last November, when the McKameys scored their 15th #1 with “Between 12 and 33,” the McKameys and Crabbs had been tied for most #1s ever on the Singing News chart at 14 each. The Crabb Family included four of those songs, “Please Forgive Me,” “The Lamb, The Lion, and the King,” “Please Come Down to Me,” and, of course, their signature song, “Through the Fire,” on the video.

The video starts and ends with the driving uptempo material the final lineup of the Crabbs was best known for. In between, there are several segments where the pace slows for a relaxed acoustic set of several songs.

The Crabb Family kept a live band on the road through their final tour, and used it here to good effect, with few if any soundtracks mixed in with the largely live sound.

The video was recorded in standard definition, but the quality is as good as standard def footage can be—the lighting and the placement and focus of the cameras are excellent. The editing is also well done, using split screens or even quarter screens to highlight the live band when appropriate.

The extras are valuable additions. Each of the five touring siblings—Jason, Adam, Aaron, Terah, and Kelly—is featured in a behind the scenes interview segment. Concert and behind the scenes footage is mixed in to make each segment a 5-10 minute mini-featurette.

There is one bonus song, “Redeemer” (the Nicole C. Mullen song that the Crabb Family cut on Blur the Lines). Some footage from what appears to be an early-90s or late-80s visual depiction of the life of Jesus is spliced in. It’s as much or more a testament to the live film crew that the concert footage comes across as being of a higher quality than the visual depictions of Jesus.

Rating: 4.5 stars. ♦ Group members: Jason Crabb, Kelly Crabb Bowling, Terah Crabb Penhollow, Adam Crabb, Aaron Crabb. ♦ Available from: Label. Review copy provided. ♦ Song list: Promised Land; My Keeper; Greater is He; Travelin’ On; Sacrifice of Praise; Amazing Grace; Please Forgive Me; Please Come Down to Me; Because of Who You Are; I Surrender All; Through the Fire; I’m Going Home with Jesus; Good Day; I’ve Come to Take You Home; I’d Rather Have Jesus; The Lamb, The Lion and The King; Can’t Nobody Medley / Power in the Blood (Bonus Track: Redeemer).

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CD/DVD Review: Live at Dollywood (Kingdom Heirs)

Kingdom Heirs - Live at DollywoodIt has been at least over three years, five CDs, and several #1 hits since the Kingdom Heirs last recorded a live concert video. One could say it was about time.

The video opens with a behind-the-scenes montage of preparation for the film, with sound check, makeup, banter between group members, and greetings from fans waiting to get in.

When the group takes the stage, it’s mostly singing with very little talking. French seems to be a fan of letting songs speak for themselves—or perhaps of picking songs that can.

The audio quality is excellent, CD-quality. (In fact, the DVD comes packaged with a companion CD, bundled in the same $25 package.) There are a few points where room reverb (or overdubs on top of original vocals as picked up by other singers’ microphones) can be noticed, but those are minor and do not jump out.

Attention to detail is evident in the staging. Just as one example, not only does the stage set include a bright red-and-gold background with the Kingdom Heirs’ logo, but that logo can also be seen elsewhere, such as on the piano right above the keys.

The cinematography (image quality) is top-notch, especially for standard definition. There are at least four cameras, with one and possibly two booms. There are only a few shots placing the featured singer(s) in an odd corner of the screen; in nearly all of the hundreds of shots selected, the advantages of the widescreen format are utilized to full effect. Twelve to fifteen lights help ensure that nearly all shots are well lit. (It’s not clear whether the circular rainbows are an accidental artifact of the lighting or intentional effects.)

The song selection should delight any fan except a fan looking for a recap of their last video’s set list. (If you’re one of those fans, just buy the last one, too.) Songs like “I Want You to Know,” “He Locked the Gates,” and “What We Needed” show off the Kingdom Heirs’ strengths in the convention style.

As well they should, the group makes the most of the talent it has at the lead position. From the bluesy “Jesus Made a Believer Out of Me” to the big ballad “When You Look at Me” to feature lines on convention songs, Arthur Rice proves that he can sing practically anything well.

Tenor Billy Hodges shines on “Fire Away” and “The Empty Tomb Says it All.” Steve French only sings one solo, “As Good as I Can Be.” Besides solo lines on various songs, particularly on convention-style numbers, Jeff Chapman is featured on “Help Me Lord.”

The singing abilities of two band members are also highlighted; pianist Andy Stringfield sings on “When You Look at Me” and “I’ll Meet You By the River,” and drummer Dennis Murphy closes the film with the parody / comedy track “The Video Song.”

The review can’t go without mention of the songwriting team behind the project. Other than “He Locked the Gates” (Rodney Griffin), “The Empty Tomb Says it All” (newcomer Daryl Petersheim), Murphy’s self-penned comedy number, and a couple classic songs, Dianne Wilkinson wrote (or, in one case, co-wrote) the rest of the songs. Most Kingdom Heirs fans are already familiar with a number of these songs, most notably “What We Needed”; of particular note is Arthur Rice’s riveting rendition of “When You Look at Me.” It’s a song he feels is Dianne’s best since “We Shall See Jesus,” and he delivers it with a passion that brings the audience to its feet at the close of the second verse, and up again for a prolonged standing ovation at the close.

The Kingdom Heirs are easily one of the best two or three quartets on the road right now, and this is a video/CD product worthy of a group at its pinnacle.

Rating: 5 stars. ♦ Average song rating: 4.6 stars. ♦ Group members: Billy Hodges, Arthur Rice, Steve French, Jeff Chapman, Andy Stringfield, Dennis Murphy, Kreis French. ♦ Produced by: Jacob Timmons. ♦ Available from: Artist. Review copy provided. ♦ Song list: On Gloryland Way; I Want You To Know; Fire Away; As Good as I Can Be; Jesus Made a Believer Out of Me; Rock’s Between a Hard Place and You; Help Me Lord; The Empty Tomb Says it All; He Locked the Gates; There is Power in the Blood (Instrumental); When You Look at Me; I’ll Meet You By the River; Beyond the Gates; What We Needed; The Video Song.

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DVD Review: NQC Live Vol. 9

nqcMuch—perhaps too much—has already been said here and elsewhere about what’s not on this year’s NQC Live. That topic has been exhausted, so let’s talk about what is there.

Twelve songs from leading Southern Gospel artists are featured on the CD/DVD combo; two bonus tracks also appear on the DVD. Not counting the extras, six Crossroads artists, four Daywind artists, one New Haven artist, and one presently independent artist (Hoppers) appear. Throw in the bonus features and there are three independent artists (Hoppers, Greenes, Danny Funderburk) and six Daywind artists.

Enough ink has been spilled (or is that pixels wasted?) over the obvious picks that didn’t make it. I’ve made up my mind to just accept the fact (as Chris White explained here) that labels are prone to veto the inclusion of hits as big as “If You Knew Him” (Perrys) and “He Locked the Gates” (Kingdom Heirs). But several obvious highlights did make it, most notably the Kingsmen’s “God Saw a Cross” and Gold City’s “Cast Your Bread Upon the Water,” and, from the bonus features, “Champion of Love” (former Cathedral Quartet members).

The cinematography is excellent; the lighting, choice of angles, camera angles, and editing are well done. Unfortunately, it’s still standard definition, but, after all, we’re dealing with footage captured from an event with ten or so cameras for six hours a night (not even counting showcases!)

With several fewer artists than in past years, several favorite artists who have appeared in the past didn’t make the cut this time. Since my personal favorite was one of them, I can sympathize with those who have expressed some disappointment. But what is there is enough to make a top-notch live concert video. It’s just that Southern Gospel has more talent than can fit on one video.

Rating: 4 stars. ♦ Average song rating: 3.6 stars. ♦ Produced by: Chris White. ♦ Available from: Label. Review copy provided. ♦ Song list: O It Thrills Me (Hoppers); I Want to Know That You Know (Greater Vision); Cast Your Bread Upon the Water (Gold City); Mountain Mover (Talley Trio); God Saw a Cross (Kingsmen); Favorite Song of All (Ivan Parker); Hold On (Dove Brothers); Ephesians Chapter One (Karen Peck & New River); Trading a Cross For a Crown (Booth Brothers); Jesus Made a Believer Out of Me (Kingdom Heirs); God Will Make a Cross (Janet Paschal); Jesus Will Pick You Up (Brian Free & Assurance). ♦ DVD-only bonus songs: Hold On (Greenes), Champion of Love (Greater Vision / Legacy Five / Mark Trammell Trio / Danny Funderburk).

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DVD Review: Live at Oak Tree (Greater Vision)

DVD_liveoaktreeLive at Oak Tree is a DVD / CD series released by Daywind Records, featuring several Daywind artists singing in a studio setting at Oak Tree Studio.

Greater Vision’s entry in this series features quite a few songs from their Not Alone CD (their most recent recording of new songs), as well as several tracks from other recent projects and several of their greatest hits. Jacob Kitson, who surprised nobody in the industry by winning “Favorite Horizon Individual” at the 2009 Fan Awards, delights with his more than adequate renditions of songs from earlier eras of the group. In particular, he does so well on the Hymns of the Ages tracks that one wishes Gerald Wolfe would re-cut the vocals on that project and have a version available with his vocal. And his rendition of “So Much God” is the best Greater Vision has recorded.

Legacy Five’s Tim Parton joined Greater Vision for the video; the group was backed by a four-piece band that included Parton on piano, John Hammond on drums, Craig Nelson on bass, and Kelly Back on guitar. (Lari Goss took over on piano on several tracks.)

Particularly welcome are several songs—”It Means Just What it Says” and “Treasures Unseen”—that feature Greater Vision with just the live band. It’s these songs more than any other that make this project a must-add for fans who already have Live at First Baptist Orlando and other recent Greater Vision DVDs.

The cinematography is decent overall, though it’s not clear whether the grainy black-and-white footage from one angle was an accident or somehow intentional. Also somewhat distracting is the jerky zooming in and out on the multi-group songs in the bonus footage. The lighting is also good overall, though Rodney Griffin was over-lit to the point that his face lookes overly pale from a few angles. But despite those quibbles, the choice of camera angles and overall end product is enjoyable.

The extras include two songs featuring the three groups in this Oak Tree series (Greater Vision, the Booth Brothers, and Legacy Five) singing “I’m Feelin’ Fine” and “Jubilee,” as well as a tear-jerking bonus on Compassion International, featuring “Faces” as the soundtrack and featuring video footage of the group meeting a child they sponsored for the first time.

Though Greater Vision is at their best on a live stage—as Gerald Wolfe himself notes in the out-takes—this video is a nice change of pace, a welcome addition to their videography.

Rating: 4 stars. ♦ Group members: Jacob Kitson (tenor), Gerald Wolfe (lead), Rodney Griffin (baritone). ♦ Executive Producer: Dottie Leonard Miller. Producers: Paul Corley, Tre’ Corley, Norman Holland, Michael Turner, Shannon Lancaster. ♦ Available from: Artist. Review copy not provided. (And for anyone who actually reads the credits, that’s just a fancy way of saying that I bought it. Annoying FTC regulations … ) ♦ Song list: The Source of My Song; Tell Me the Story of Jesus; Share it with Jesus; It Means Just What it Says; He is Loved; I’ve Been to the Bottom; So Much God; It Pays to Pray; Treasures Unseen; I Want to Know that You Know; My Name is Lazarus; I Know He Heard My Prayer; He is to Me (Bonus Features: The Happy Jubilee; I’m Feeling Fine).

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