DVD Review: The Legacy, The Legend, The Lady (Eva Mae LeFevre)

About a year ago, several former LeFevres family and group members gathered for a special concert to commemorate Eva Mae LeFevre’s 90th birthday. Though nobody there knew this, it ended up being Eva Mae’s final recorded performance. Performances from the former members are interspersed with several numbers performed by Eva Mae, with piano accompaniment by her long-time pianist, Mark Fuller.

Janet Paschal opened the concert with “Rock of Ages Hide Me Again.” After her song, the film cut to a conversation between Janet and Singing News’ Les Butler about how Eva Mae had taught her to be a professional.

Eva Mae sang two numbers, “Mansion Over the Hilltop” and “I Can Call Jesus Anytime,” with a video clip of Les Butler talking with her about her upbringing between the two songs.

After a video introduction from Eva Mae, her nephew Mike LeFevre and his group (LeFevre Quartet / Priority) sang the classic song “Must I Go, and Empty Handed” (penned by her brother-in-law Alphus LeFevre).

Former LeFevres member Ron Hutchins was featured on a brief interview segment before the next number, “Child of the King,” featuring Eva Mae’s pianist, Mark Fuller, singing the solo, with Eva Mae joining on the choruses. On the final chorus, an unidentified third voice (Janet Paschal’s?) joined in a third harmony part.

Ron Hutchins, Eva Mae, and Janet Paschal sang “Leave it There.” Janet had her part spot-on from the first note, and Ron picked his up quickly.

The LeFevre quartet returned for “Without Him.” Mike LeFevre sang the first verse; tenor Gus Gaches had the second, and took the melody through the end.

The Talley Trio kicked off the final song, “Sweeter as the Days Go By.” After the second chorus, all the singers featured at one point or another in the program joined them for the ending.

The video was finished and prepared for release before Eva Mae’s passing this May. Though not originally intended as a tribute, it serves as a good one—and perhaps as a good introduction to fans newer to the genre, just now discovering the over 70-year-ministry of this legend.

Rating: 4 stars. ♦ Produced by: David Staton. Available from: Label. Review copy provided. ♦ Song list: Rock of Ages Hide Me Again (featuring Janet Paschal); Mansion Over the Hilltop; I Can Call Jesus Anytime; Must I Go And Empty Handed (featuring LeFevre Quartet / Priority); Leave it There (featuring Eva Mae, Ron Hutchins, Janet Paschal); Without Him; Sweeter As the Days Go By (featuring the Talley Trio, the LeFevre Quartet, Janet Paschal, Ron Hutchins, Mark Fuller, Eva Mae).

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DVD Review: Nashville Homecoming (Gaither Homecoming Friends)

nashvilleRating: 4.5 stars (of 5)

* * *

About two and a half years ago, Bill Gaither hosted two video tapings on consecutive days. One day was a hymns taping; three DVDs/CDs resulted (Rock of Ages, How Great Thou Art, and the Grammy®-nominated Amazing Grace). The other day featured a more familiar Homecoming mixture of new songs and classics. These resulted in two DVDs released this week, Nashville Homecoming and Joy in My Heart.

Let’s take a look at Nashville Homecoming.

  • The Hallelujah Side. This is a nice up-tempo song to kick the project off. A trio of Charlotte Ritchie, Wesley Pritchard, and TaRanda Greene sing the first chorus and the second verse and chorus; Chris Freeman offers a soulful solo on the first verse.
  • I Wish I Could Have Been There. Unlike most recent Homecoming tapings, where the artist could deliver the song either to a live audience or a semi-circle of artists which they could face while singing, this Homecoming setup places the audience of artists behind the singers, leaving the artists to play only to the cameras. Especially for artists new to the Homecoming video tapings (such as Perrys lead singer Joseph Habedank, featured on this song), this would only serve to compound the already jarring experience of singing to a sterile audience of high-definition cameras. So, perhaps understandably, Habedank started the first verse a little tentatively. But this wore off by the end of the first chorus, and the audience of artists stood for the encore. A second encore was called as the Perrys were walking off center stage; the video cuts away from this to a video of Bill Gaither talking with Duane Allen.
  • Try a Little Kindness. This familiar song, featuring Tim Surrett, is a nice mid-tempo change of pace.
  • I Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now. Songwriter Mosie Lister had recently produced a project called Mosie’s Men, a project featuring about 50 male voices. He directs all the male voices in the Homecoming choir on this classic. The choir’s sound is so pleasant and distinctive that one wonders if this song’s success might spur Gaither to do more songs featuring just the male voices in the choir. Gene McDonald and Glenn Dustin are featured on the verses. McDonald is stellar (as always); Dustin’s solo is one of his career best. He has been a great bass vocalist from day one, but this song is one of several recent solos showing his growth as a singer.
  • God is In the Shadows. This song is sung by a female trio of Kim, Brooklyn, and Courtney Collingsworth. Younger sister Courtney has the solo. Of all the vocal configurations the Collingsworth Family uses in any given concert, this female trio is possibly their best and certainly their most distinctive. The Collingsworth ladies are Southern Gospel’s female Booth Brothers. They match their enunciation and vocal placement more precisely than any other group in the genre (besides, perhaps, the Booth Brothers, the Isaacs, and Voices Won).
  • Over and Over. This song, sung by Jeff & Sheri Easter (featuring Jeff), is Charlotte Ritchie’s final Homecoming appearance as part of the group.
  • I Don’t Regret a Mile. This song features Johnny Minick playing piano and singing the lead; Guy Penrod and Sheri Easter added the trio harmony parts. As the first verse finishes, the video and audio both transition to Howard Goodmans’ narration from the Happy Goodmans’ 50 Faithful Years video. As the final chorus fades back in, the cameras cut between the 50 Faithful Years rendition and the live taping, and the Homecoming Choir’s voices were mixed in with Howard and Vestal’s vocals.
  • Child of the King. In another video montage, Mike Allen kicks the song off before the video cuts to an earlier version of the song by Brock Speer (from Moments to Remember). Tim Duncan sings the entire second verse. Halfway through the second chorus, the video fades back to Brock Speer, and the audio mixes the classic and current Homecoming choirs.
  • I’m So Glad. Practically every Homecoming video has its soul Gospel moment, and fans of those moments will appreciate this solo by Jessy Dixon and Alicia Williamson. Williamson’s verse is particularly enjoyable.
  • The Dearest Friend I Ever Had. The first verse of the song is a musical background to a video clip of Kelly Nelon Clark and Janet Paschal trading memories of their days with the Nelons. The second features the Homecoming Choir. (The complete song may be on the CD, which I do not have as of the time I write the review.)
  • Feet on the Ground. This song features Dallas Holm. Though his roots in contemporary music are evident, the song selection fits the rest of the project well.
  • Bill Gaither reminisces with Jimmy Blackwood about James Blackwood’s role in the first few videos.
  • O Happy Day. This song features Lillie Knauls, who was in the Edwin Hawkins Singers when this song became a big contemporary hit. The Talley Trio sings backup vocals. The look of shock on Knauls’ face when the encore kicked off was priceless, but she recovered instantly and turned in a strong encore.
  • Jonah, Job & Moses. This song, featuring the Oak Ridge Boys, is introduced by a clip of their lead singer, Duane Allen, reminiscing with Bill Gaither about the great voices in Southern Gospel music, past and present.
  • I Just Came to Talk With You Lord. This was Dottie Rambo’s final Homecoming performance; a brief tribute before the song honored her memory…but no tribute could be better than seeing her singing one of her classics. Fortunately for history, Gaither had a chance to capture her in high definition before her passing.
  • The Promise. The Martins, who have come back together for occasional tour dates, sang this song, from their final release (Above it All, 2003).
  • Ain’t Gonna Give Up on God. This song featured Gordon Mote singing and playing organ.
  • Meeting in the Air. After a few less traditional songs, Gaither nods to aficionados of classic quartets by including a Joshua Pope piano solo. Pope, now 16, was 14 at the time of the taping. He is as good a showman as he is a pianist, looking up and smiling at the (nonexistent) audience at appropriate points in the song.
  • Strike Up the Band. Legacy Five sings the opening track from what was a current release at the time of the taping, Live at Music City.
  • In the Upper Room. Larry Gatlin said that one of the greatest honors one songwriter can pay another is recording their song. He thanked the Gaither Vocal Band for giving them that honor when they cut “Heartbreak Ridge and New Hope Road,” and said they would return the honor by singing this early Gaither composition.
  • Bill Gaither reminisces with Lily Weatherford about the classic recording In the Garden.
  • The One I’m Dying For. This song is performed by the Isaacs, featuring Becky Isaacs Bowman.
  • It Won’t Rain Always. Bill Gaither introduced Janet Paschal by asking her to give an update on her cancer. (The update is slightly jarring to someone who follows Southern Gospel headlines closely, with the videos being recorded over two years ago.) Backup vocals were provided by Sheri Easter and Charlotte Ritchie.
  • Make it Real. Mark Lowry sings this classic Gaither Vocal Band song. (More thoughts later.)
  • I Need Thee Every Hour. Bill Gaither leads the Homecoming choir in this classic hymn, as a segue from the thoughts in the closing chorus of “Make it Real.”
  • Yaweh. The Hopper’s powerful rendition of this Paula Stefanovich classic-in-the-making helps bring the project to a strong close.
  • Send it On Down. This song features solos from Reggie Smith and TaRanda Greene. In an odd coincidence of history, the DVD’s actual release date (this past Tuesday) was the same day TaRanda was in surgery, donating a kidney to her husband Tony.

The video ends with a brief tribute to Dottie Rambo.

The Gaither team’s cinematography is excellent, as always. Overall, the Homecoming video crews have handled the transition to widescreen seamlessly, though there are a few minor glitches (such as a close-up shot of Kim Hopper toward the beginning of “Yaweh” where the bottom half of Dean Hopper’s head is a little too prominently in the frame for a little too long). But overall, the video quality shines; one can only hope that a Blu-Ray release may be in the works.

A bonus feature includes Bill Gaither discussing alligator hunting with Joel Hemphill (complete with photos of Hemphill with successfully hunted alligators). Before any controversy starts, in all fairness to Gaither, it must be said that this was taped well over a year before there was any public controversy over Hemphill’s doctrinal views.

In a slightly odd editing choice—I say “slightly odd” because I don’t see any particular connection between the two—the Hemphill interview segment segued into a bonus track from the Lewis Family, “A Step Away.” Most Gaither videos have included bonus segments as separate menu options.

Though a few deserving groups got their first Homecoming solos, or their first in quite some time, probably the most noteworthy part of the lineup is what isn’t there. There is no song featuring the Gaither Vocal Band on the entire project. Now it’s not like Gaither is trying to erase the memory of that lineup—after all, the companion DVD, Joy in My Heart, features the Hampton/Penrod/Hall lineup singing “Bread Upon the Water.” Yet this video will still probably go down as an anomaly in the series. I don’t know if I can definitively say whether this is the only Homecoming video without a Gaither Vocal Band song. (Do any readers know of others?)

Interestingly, the closest the video comes to a GVB song is “Make it Real,” a song featuring Mark Lowry, with backup vocals by Guy Penrod and Marshall Hampton Hall.

The taping that produced these two DVDs, and the Hymns DVDs, was the first Homecoming taping in four or five years featuring a fairly full, 150 to 200-voice choir. That makes these the first two DVDs of new songs taped in the classic format in a number of years—in fact, since legends like George Younce, Jake Hess, James Blackwood, and Vestal Goodman were still in the Homecoming Choir.

It’s not quite the same. It’s a little different—as it would have to be. But it’s quite good in its own way. There is really no other product out there (except maybe the NQC Live projects) that comes anywhere near to providing as broad a taste of the best Southern Gospel has to offer, in high-definition video and audio quality. Nobody knows how much longer we will have Bill Gaither preserving these moments for us. But it’s a privilege more or less unique to our genre—one it’s worth recognizing for the blessing it is while we still have it.

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Classic DVD Review: Celebrating 50 Years (Melody Boys Quartet)

Rating: 4.5 stars (of 5)

Members: Mike Franklin (tenor), Jonathan Sawrie (lead), Jeremy Raines (baritone), Gerald Williams (bass).

Song List: Give the World a Smile; God is Great, Good, and Merciful; How Great Thou Art; Sing Me A Song About Jesus; Somewhere Someday; Pray; Faith in My Savior; Gonna Get My Sins Forgiven; Dying to Know You; You Must Have that True Religion; UFO; Listen; Over the Moon; Settled In the Promised Land.

Available From: Artist. (EDIT: 8/5/2011: Broken link removed)

* * *

This project was originally recorded about ten years ago and was first released on VHS. This project, since reissued on DVD, is worth revisiting for a number of reasons. One of them, obviously, is the project’s historical significance to the group, marking the group’s 50-year milestone since Smiling Joe Roper took over management of what at the time was a Stamps-Baxter group and renamed it the Melody Boys. That year, 16-year-old bass singer Gerald Williams joined the group as its bass singer.

Another reason is that the lineup that recorded this project—tenor Mike Franklin, lead/pianist Jonathan Sawrie, baritone Jeremy Raines, and bass Gerald Williams—is frequently named as the group’s best lineup.

Though the DVD was clearly recorded in and transferred from an analog format, the visual production value on the original product is quite solid. There are a number of camera angles for wide shots and closeups. (The credits seem to indicate there were four steady cameras and one roving camera.) All the shots, even the audience shots, are well-lit.

One artifact of the VHS-to-DVD conversion is that the project is not split into song-by-song chapters. Perhaps this could be rectified if the project goes into further pressings.

The program alternated between piano-only accompaniment, songs with soundtracks, and acapella numbers.

Interviews with current and former Melody Boys members are interspersed with the songs. A clip from Rex Parnell highlighting his favorite Joe Roper song as “Somewhere Someday” introduced the current lineup’s rendition of the song. Gerald Williams introduces “Pray” by explaining how challenging it was for the original group to learn. Several other previous and (then) current members introduce songs and share highlights from their Melody Boys years.

Toward the end of the project, a number of past Melody Boys came on stage and sang a half-dozen songs. This footage, plus the interviews with (then) current and past members, makes the project worth the purchase price for this if for no other reason.

This project is a worthwhile addition to the library of any fan of classic male quartet singing.

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DVD Review: Louisville Live (Booth Brothers)

video_louisville_liveRating: 5 stars (of 5)

Members: Michael Booth (tenor); Ronnie Booth (lead); Jim Brady (baritone)

Song List: Tell Me the Story of Jesus; I’m Going Back; Tears Are a Language; This Love is Mine; The Eyes of Jesus; Welcome to the Family; I Would; Look For Me at Jesus’ Feet; Still Feelin’ Fine (with Greater Vision); He Saw it All; The One That I Love; Secret Place; Haven of Rest.

* * *

Perhaps because the cost of producing a live concert video can be in the tens of thousands of dollars, increasing numbers of groups are choosing to film their live projects at the National Quartet Convention. It’s not like this is a bad thing; though live NQC footage from several years ago frequently had noticeable technical flaws, these have been ironed out, and Louisville Live and similar titles have high visual and audio production quality.

Through NQC 2007, the INSP channel filmed the event live with a five or six camera crew; starting with NQC 2008 (last year), the Gospel Music Channel has been providing live video and recording the concerts for future airing.

Louisville Live has thirteen songs from the Booth Brothers’ three mainstage sets. The editing between songs was smooth enough that it’s not immediately evident where the cuts between different sets took place.

Unlike a number of groups which make live videos a showcase of every single song from their latest recording, the Booth Brothers make Louisville Live more a taste of what a live Booth Brothers concert would sound like. They mix songs from their main-label projects with songs from their table projects, and songs with full soundtracks with songs with a lighter piano-only accompaniment. (Southern Gospel piano soloist Roy Webb provided live piano accompaniment.)

The Booth Brothers are so good at what they do that it’s hard to isolate highlights. A slow song like “The Eyes of Jesus” is as much a high point as “Welcome to the Family”—and, in fact, “The Eyes of Jesus” got one of the strongest responses of the songs on the lineup. Greater Vision joining the Booth Brothers for “Still Feeling Fine” is a welcome addition to what one might find on a typical non-NQC live DVD.

There are a number of bonus features: A clip of highlights from the 2008 Singing News Fan Awards, a behind-the-scenes look at the Booth Brothers’ NQC week, and a video product pitch.

The Booth Brothers chose a strong assortment of songs to highlight, and there are no detracting audio or video flaws. So there’s really no reason not to give this project five stars.

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DVD Review: 1951 1958 Live (Blackwood Brothers Quartet)

Rating: 4 stars (of 5)

Song List: 1951 Blackwood Brothers Quartet: Rolling, Riding, Rocking; Swing Down Sweet Chariot; He Bought My Soul; Satisfied; It Is No Secret; Rock A My Soul. 1958 Blackwood Brothers Quartet: Never; No Tears in Heaven; I’m Happy and Free; Inside the Gate; I Don’t Mind; His Hands; He’s All That I Need; I’m Bound For That City; Jesus is Mine; Wonderful Savior.

Available from: Artist (Blackwood Brothers, on table).

* * *

1951 1958 Live is a 2006 DVD featuring footage of the pre and post plane crash Blackwood Brothers Quartet.

The DVD starts with a photo and video montage featuring footage of the group from the over seven decades it has been on the road.

The first segment of the video contains six songs featuring the group’s 1951 lineup, tenor Dan Huskey, lead James Blackwood, baritone R.W. Blackwood, bass Bill Lyles, and pianist Jackie Marshall. The video does have some specks, artifacts of 6-decade-old film but is surprisingly clear.

The 1958 footage features tenor Bill Shaw, lead James Blackwood, baritone Cecil Blackwood, bass J.D. Sumner, and pianist Wally Varner. The video also has some old film artifacts but is also quite clear. It appears that this may have been a segment recorded for television; unlike the 1951 segment, with the classic quartet 2-microphone setup, the 1958 segment has overhead mikes. On a number of songs (most notably “Inside the Gate”), the audio and video are out of sync enough that it isn’t clear whether the 1958 segments were the group singing along with a  separately recorded audio track or merely out of sync audio.

The songs do not appear in the order they are listed on the DVD cover; the song listing in this review reflects the actual order of the songs on the project.

The Blackwood Brothers have done the genre a service by reissueing this rare footage in a current format. This video is probably the closest modern-day Southern Gospel fans will ever be able to come to experiencing what it was like to see the Blackwood Brothers during this classic era.

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DVD Review: Live at First Baptist Orlando (Greater Vision)

gv_dvd_orlandoRating: 4 stars (of 5)

Song List: You Were Faithful Yesterday; I Want to Know that You Know; What a Beautiful Day; Little is Much; I’m Too Near Home; A Mighty Fortress is Our God; It Pays to Pray; You’re Not Forsaken; Better Hurry Up.

Available From: Artist.

* * *

Several months ago, Greater Vision recorded a live video at First Baptist Orlando; the DVD came out several weeks ago.

The video is fairly short, just nine songs long. It contains the highlights from their live programs over the last year, particularly Rodney Griffin’s introduction of “It Pays to Pray” and Gerald Wolfe’s introduction of Jacob Kitson (“Little is Much”) and Wolfe’s introduction of how a song so Lutheran that Luther himself wrote it won over a diffident Lutheran audience (“A Mighty Fortress”).

The program features four songs from Memories Made New (“What a Beautiful Day,” “Little is Much,” “Too Near Home,” and “Better Hurry Up”) and four songs from their last major label project, Not Alone (“You Were Faithful Yesterday,” “I Want to Know that You Know,” “It Pays to Pray,” and “You’re Not Forsaken”).

The cinematography is decent, with no major faux pas. There was no roving camera, so there are few audience shots. (Most of the times the audience is visible, it’s only the back of their heads, which is unfortunate since I have several good-looking friends who reserved front row seats.)

This DVD gives a taste of what a live Greater Vision concert is like—not really enough to capture a full concert experience, but it’s enough to make the viewer want to catch a full concert.

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DVD Review: Song of a Lifetime

song_of_a_lifetimeRating: 5 stars (0f 5)

Song List: “Welcome to the Family” (Booth Brothers); “Let the Rocks Keep Silent” (Atlanta First Baptist Choir & Orchestra); “Safe on the Glory Side” (Mark Trammell Trio); “His Life For Mine” (Talley Trio); “I Will Stand” (Tommy Mosely); “Praying Man” (Brian Free & Assurance); “The Lighthouse” (Ronnie Hinson); “Let Me Be a Rock” (The Dartts); “You Were Working For Me” (Mark Bishop); “Amazing Grace” (Mallory Ledford); “Grace Will Always Be Greater Than Sin” (Hoppers); “Hey Jonah” (Triumphant Quartet); “It Pays to Pray” (Greater Vision); “He Looked Beyond My Fault” (Pfeifers); “The Sweetest Words” (Hemphills); “There’s a Miracle in Me” (Greenes); “The Rose” (Inspirations); “Behold the Lamb” (Phil Cross & Crossing); “Ten Thousand Years” (Jim Brady); “Where No One Stands Alone” (The Crist Family); “Holy Shore” (Perrys).

Some say that nobody can sing a song like the person who wrote it.

That’s not precisely true, since sometimes a great singer has lived through and understands the life circumstances that led to a song’s writing and can sing it with the same passion.

On Song of a Lifetime, you get to experience both. A number of great singer/songwriters introduce and perform one of their best songs, while a number of non-performing songwriters introduce one of their hits before the group that popularized it performs it.

Many of the songs on this project are fairly recent hits, but there are also a number of classic songs and songwriters recognized. Mosie Lister introduces his classic song “Where No One Stands Alone,” before the Crist Family sings it. Ronnie Hinson introduces and sings “The Lighthouse.” The Pfeifers pay tribute to Dottie Rambo with a rendition of “He Looked Beyond My Fault,” and Jim Brady honors Elmer Cole with a rendition of “Ten Thousand Years.”

Worthy of special mention is 12-year-old Mallory Ledford’s rendition of “Amazing Grace.” This was the only song included in the program not written within the last 60 or 70 years. Ledford delivers an impressive rendition; though not as perfect as will be possible after her voice matures, it takes a special sort of confidence for a child to sing in front of a few thousand people solo and acapella.

The songwriter’s comments range from brief introductions to in-depth emotional stories behind the songs. Perhaps the two most memorable stories were Rodney Griffin’s intro to “It Pays to Pray” and Phil Cross’s conversation with an audience member about how “Miracle in Me” had actually saved a life.

Some attendees of the NQC showcase where this was taped expressed some concern that it seemed disjointed at points. Knowing that heading into the review, the editors of the DVD version deserve high praise for taking their source material and coming out with a DVD that flows well and has few if any awkward transitions between introductions and songs.

This type of gathering, with most of the top songwriters gathered to tell the stories behind their songs, and most of the top groups gathered to sing them, is the sort of thing that is only possible at NQC. I was going to conclude by saying that this was one of the best Southern Gospel videos I’ve seen that was taped at NQC, but it doesn’t really nead that last qualifier. This is a top-notch video, period.

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DVD Review: Why? (Aaron Wilburn)

Christian comedian Aaron Wilburn got his start as a Southern Gospel musician and songwriter, performing for several years with the Happy Goodmans Band and writing or co-writing songs such as “What a Beautiful Day,” “It’s Beginning to Rain,” “Home,” and “The Night Heaven Kissed Earth.”

His comedy career has had a boost since the advent of YouTube; videos of some of his routines have been popular enough to pick up 8 million hits.

The videography is decent. The lighting on the close-up shots of his face is superb. The lighting on the zoomed-out shots and the wide audience pans is decent but not great. But the audience closeups are inconsistent; some have decent lighting, but some are so dark that you can’t see the audience member’s face. Tip for video editors: If the closeup is so dark that you can’t see the person’s face, just don’t put it in.

One of the video highlights is his routine on dieting, leading up to his song “Dietin.” This particular routine is genuinely funny.

I must admit it was my first time to watch a full-length comedy video, so I don’t have much to compare it to, but I did find it enjoyable.

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DVD/CD Review: Reunion 1 and 2 (Gaither Vocal Band)

vol1Rating: 5 stars (of 5) (both volumes)

Available from: Basically everywhere.

Song list: Volume 1: He Came Down To My Level; Your First Day In Heaven; New Wine; Rumormill; Can’t Stop Talking About Him; A Few Good Men; Born Again; Satisfied; I Bowed On My Knees; He Touched Me; Heartbreak Ridge And New Hope Road; Knowing You’ll Be There; Home, Where I Belong; No Other Name But Jesus; There Is A River; Gentle Shepherd; Let Freedom Ring; Loving God, Loving Each Other.

vol2Volume 2: Passin’ The Faith Along; Temporary Home; Dream On; I’ll Meet You In The Morning; The Really Big News; Home; Build An Ark; O Love That Will Not Let Me Go; When The Rains Come; The Love Of God; New Point Of View; Give Up; When I Cry; I Walked Today Where Jesus Walks; Find Us Faithful; I’m Free; Make It Real; Mary, Did You Know?; Oh! What A Time.

* * *

Ever since Wes Hampton broke the story last summer that the Gaither Vocal Band alumni would be getting together to record a reunion video, this project has been one of the most anticipated Gaither releases in years.

It does not disappoint.

Some of the greatest vocal talent—not only in Christian music, but in music period—has gone through the Vocal Band over the last (nearly) three decades. These videos offer both an opportunity to hear voices together that haven’t harmonized for decades, and to hear some of these same vocal powerhouses in entirely new configurations.

The highlights are too many to list. At least every other song was greeted with a standing ovation, and it wasn’t just the performers being polite to one another. It was just that good.

Steve Green shines, both in a quartet setting for the first time in years and in one of his big ’80s hits, “Find us Faithful.” Wes Hampton’s delight at just being there, let alone getting the chance to perform with his vocal heroes, is contagious enough that it would be hard for the viewer not to catch a taste of the moment. The personal testimonies, especially when Michael English expressed that he thought he would never again have the chance to sing in a quartet setting again, are touching.

The cinematography is excellent. Though Gaither has used widescreen for several of his videos, this is the first one where it is more a plus than a minus. It is used to greatest effect in the close-ups, where, for example, the singer with the solo can be framed off-center but looking towards the center of the frame. The minus of widescreen closeups is where a singer goes for a high note and ducks out of the frame—but these awkward moments were far fewer than in earlier projects. For the most part, action shots were framed with an appropriately wide zoom.

The only thing that could have made this video any better would have been more of the same. Specifically, it would have been nice to see another song (each) featuring Steve Green, Wes Hampton, and Marsh Hall. And one concept Gaither did touch on—different Vocal Band iterations singing different verses of a song—would have been fascinating to have seen more fully developed. Suppose, for example, on “Passin’ the Faith Along,” the original Gaither Vocal Band sang one verse, and the (then) current Vocal Band, which redid the song in 2004, took the second verse. (It would have been nice to have the two missing members, Terry Franklin and Jonathan Pierce, present, but the talent level of the remaining members in the room was so high that their presence isn’t conspicuous.) But with two DVDs / CDs, thirty-seven songs (plus two bonus tracks), and four hours of music, even mentioning more of the same sounds a little silly.

This project is good enough that it’s hardly surprising that yesterday’s headline (literally) [EDIT, 11/8/10: The link is broken and has been removed] is that the video debuted at #1 on the Billboard Music Videos chart and (in a double first for the group) the two volumes of the CD not only hit #1 and #2 but debuted in the top two spots.

Gaither has done some good video projects in his day, but this will easily go down as one of the best. Or, just maybe, the best.

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CD/DVD Review: NQC Live Vol. 8

Rating: 5 Stars (of 5)

Average Song Rating: 4.1 Stars (of 5)

Song List: That’s What I’m Talking About (Gold City); Winds of the World (Talley Trio); You Would Think He Would Learn (Dove Brothers); I’ve Been Changed (Legacy Five); Hey (Karen Peck & New River); Statue of Liberty (Ivan Parker); It Means Just What it Says (Greater Vision); He Never Sleeps (Mark Bishop); The One That I Love (Booth Brothers); I Rest My Case (Perrys); Ready to Leave (Hoppers); God Rides on Wings of Love (Janet Paschal); What We Needed (Kingdom Heirs); Miracle in Me (Greenes); When God Ran (Kingsmen); Pray Daniel Pray (Brian Free and Assurance). DVD Bonus Songs: Little is Much (Greater Vision), You Raise Me Up (Roy Webb).

Available from: NQC Office.

* * *

NQC 2008 features footage from the 2008 National Quartet Convention, which took place from September 8-13 in Louisville, Kentucky. Previous years were filmed by INSP; this year was filmed by the Gospel Music Channel. The camera quality was as good or better than previous years. The editing was also well done; there are very few awkward shots. (One of the few is on “Little is Much,” when the camera operator evidently didn’t get the memo about how far Kitson leans forward when going for the high note at the end. But such moments are few and far between.)

Unlike in previous years, where the DVD and CD were packaged separately, this year they are packaged together in a cardboard CD-sized case.

Song selection is excellent. The Crossroads and NQC staffs did an excellent job selecting nearly all the most memorable moments. One moment I missed seeing in person (but heard about here) was the Greenes’ performance of “Miracle in Me” at Phil Cross’s songwriters showcase. Cross introduced the song by interviewing a lady who told how the song led her to choose against aborting her son. It was a very powerful moment. It is included as a bonus track on the DVD since the setting is at a showcase instead of the evening mainstage concerts. But the song is included on the CD.

As with every NQC compilation, there will be a couple of top artists there just wasn’t room to include. Other than the Gaither Vocal Band and Signature Sound, this year’s two most notable omissions were the Inspirations and Triumphant Quartet. The Inspirations probably weren’t included because lead singer Matt Dibler left the group just days before convention, and though the group was able to put four men on stage, they ended up with two tenors and no lead singer. There’s no obvious reason why Triumphant didn’t make the cut. But whatever it was, it’s not label favoritism: There are equal numbers of Crossroads and Daywind artists (six each), plus one artist each from New Haven, Canaan, and Vine appearing on the main program.

This is the best NQC Live compilation since Vol. 4 (2004), which set the standard for what could be achieved. Not only is this year’s entry one of the best in the NQC Live series, but also it’s one of the most enjoyable videos released this year.

Trivia: Though I’ve yet to confirm it with my own eyes, word has it yours truly can be briefly seen on “I Rest My Case at the Cross.” I had (on invitation) come down to the front for a couple of minutes.

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