CD Review: Your Walk Talks (Mark Trammell Quartet)

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There are no two ways about it: The Mark Trammell Quartet’s brand-new release Your Walk Talks is a masterpiece.

A great recording starts with great songs. Mark Trammell has proven he knows how to find good songs; it is not a coincidence that his years with the Cathedrals and Gold City were years in which they found and recorded many of our genre’s all-time greatest songs. Just take the Cathedrals: Trammell ran their publishing company during his years in Stow, Ohio, and for part of his time with the group, screened songs to present the best finalists to the group.

This is only the Mark Trammell Quartet’s second recording of new songs since becoming a quartet; their previous one, Testimony, came out over three years ago, in 2010. But Your Walk Talks is worth the wait. Suppose that they had released one recording a year since 2010, and then pulled together all the strongest songs onto one compilation CD. That’s how strong the song selection is here.

“Don’t Stop Running,” written by and featuring Nick Trammell, is a perfect energetic album opener, setting the tone for the rest of the album.

 “God’s Been Faithful” (Dianne Wilkinson, Scott Inman) is one of those simple message songs that are, all too often, easy to skip over when skipping through the album looking for the next hit song. But Mark Trammell’s showstopping vocal solo is probably his strongest vocal performance on the CD.

“When The King Comes To Claim His Throne” (Dianne Wilkinson) is a song about Christ’s millenial reign featuring new tenor Dustin Black carrying the melody in the convention-style choruses. On an album filled with strong songs, it’s one of the strongest.

“Thanks to Calvary” (Bill and Gloria Gaither) is a song that seemingly every group in the industry has recorded, but Pat Barker’s warm, confident solo makes the song worth standing shoulder to shoulder with the new songs.

The next song, “I’ll Go Over Jordan Someday,” is also a cover, but unlike “Thanks to Calvary,” it’s an old Stamps-Baxter song that has been almost completely forgotten since the Happy Goodmans’ rarely-discussed 1974 rendition.

Your Walk Talks isn’t exactly ballad-heavy. “Man of Sorrows,” a powerful Mark Trammell feature written by Dianne Wilkinson and Rebecca Peck, is an orchestrated anthem. The strings are there, and nicely done—incidentally, by a relatively new face on the scene, Luke Gambill of mystringsection.com. But the song’s every bit as much a hymn as it is a Southern Gospel ballad; it wouldn’t be too hard to imagine a pipe organ in place of the strings.

“Your Walk Talks” (written by Rodney Griffin and Babbie Mason) has simple message put in a delightfully fun way: “Your walk talks / and your talk talks / but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.” Bass singer Pat Barker brings the energy the song needs.

“To Know He Knows Me” (Nick Trammell, Rodney Griffin) is a tongue-twister in the great tradition of a song like “Can He, Could He, Would He.” As the chorus says: “To know He knows me like He knows me and to know that He still loves me / Lets me know that it’s a love that is real / The fact He gave me what He gave me when I asked if He would save me / Tells me He will still a promise fulfill / To know that He did when He didn’t have to do what He did / Shows the heart of His compassion and grace / And since He knows me like He knows me yet He saved me like He saved me / Lets me know His love’s a love that’s here to say.”

“I’ll Take it To The Grave” is co-written by Dianne Wilkinson and Rebecca Peck. After nearly four decades writing many of this genre’s greatest songs, Dianne Wilkinson is a songwriting legend in our genre for good reason. Yet this song is one of the five best songs she has ever written—and the single best fast song she has ever written.

 We get to the final song on the project, “I Wouldn’t Have it Any Other Way” (Dianne Wilkinson), before we have a full-scale feature for new tenor Dustin Black. It’s a reflective song with a deeply doctrinal message; how often do you hear a lyric that begins with “The mirror of God’s Holy Word revealed my lost condition”? The musical setting is the old-school bluesy Gospel style innovated by the Statesmen.

Your Walk Talks is easily the best recording of 2014, so far. But that statement’s a little too easy to make, since it is also the first major-artist recording of the year. So let’s go a little farther: It is one of the three strongest releases so far this decade.

Average song rating: 4.8 stars. Overall album rating: 5 stars.

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CD Review: Have You Heard? (Dixie Melody Boys)

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Have You Heard - Dixie Melody BoysHave You Heard? is perhaps the last thing you would expect from a group that has been on the road for fifty-one years—a breakout album.

A breakout album redefines what we can expect from a group. When we refer to an album as a breakout album, it’s usually for a group that has been in the national spotlight for a decade or less. Typically, when a group has been on the road for fifty-one years, you know what to expect!

The Dixie Melody Boys’ previous recording, their January 2011 release The Call is Still the Same, was a solid step in a new direction for the group, especially in the area of production quality. But Have You Heard? is a landmark recording that solidly exceeds its predecessor in two ways: While maintaining the same production quality, it takes steps forward in vocal performances and song selection.

This is is the strongest collection of vocal performances ever turned in on one Dixie Melody Boys’ recording. We think we know what to expect from Dixie Melody Boys vocals. Thanks to finds like Ernie Haase, Rodney Griffin, McCray Dove, Harold Reed, and Devin McGlamery, Ed O’Neal has gained a reputation for putting an incredible lineup on stage and training tomorrow’s superstars. But it’s still the case that most singers have a vocal maturity at 30-35 that they don’t have at 18-22. Many of the Dixie Melody Boys lineups of the last twenty or thirty years have had one or two (or three!) voices that hadn’t fully matured.

But this lineup is different: Josh Garner, Matt Felts, and Ed O’Neal have all spent years on quartet buses; Aaron Dishman is the only newcomer. It’s quite possibly the strongest vocal lineup the Dixie Melody Boys have ever put on stage; the lineups with Harold Reed on tenor, McCray Dove on lead, and assorted baritones are the only vocal lineups that might match this one. New lead singer Josh Garner is a perfect fit; the Dixie Melody Boys’ style is a brilliant fit for his voice type. 

Second, Have You Heard? is the strongest collection of songs that the Dixie Melody Boys have put on any recording of new songs. Two new songs co-written by Joseph Habedank (“What I Lost in the Flood,” co-written with Lindsay Habedank, and “Valley of Tears,” co-written with Rodney Griffin) are distinct highlights.

Two more co-written by Lee Black also stand out; they’re both testimony songs, but “That Story is Mine” (co-written with David Moffitt and Sue C. Smith) is a three-chords-and-a-cloud-of-dust blazing quartet song, while “When I Called His Name” (co-written with Kenna Turner West) has chord progressions you would only expect to see on a Brian Free & Assurance or Karen Peck & New River recording. It works far better here than one might have expected.

Marty Funderburk and Jeff Pearles co-wrote two more highlights. “What Remains of Me” is an Ed O’Neal feature, with guest vocals from the Isaacs. “Haven Called Heaven” is a subdued song that will be familiar if you’ve heard The Hoppers’ 2006 recording The Ride. Both would be among the strongest tracks on most Dixie Melody Boys releases; they’re somewhere around #5-#7 here, which shows much stronger song selection is this time around.

All this is without even mentioning the projects’ strongest performance, “Death Has Died.” Nine years ago, in 2004, I had only barely heard of Southern Gospel. On a whim, I borrowed the Cathedrals’ recording High and Lifted Up from the library. This song, contained on that recording, was the song that won me over and made me a Southern Gospel fan. Needless to say, I’ve thought for years that this song was long overdue to be brought back. Now, twenty years after that original 1993 rendition, it finally resurfaces. Tenor Matt Felts turns lose and goes all-out on the final chorus of the song, delivering the sort of vocal performance this song deserves.

The graphic design also deserves special mention. Don’t let the straight-ahead cover fool you; the group photos throughout the layout show a lineup that has quite a bit of fun together. There’s a fun photo where Josh Garner is preparing to swing a guitar like a baseball bat at baritone singer Aaron Dishman (who, in turn, is being held down by Matt Felts); there’s also an impossibly cute photo on the back cover (reflecting the title, Have You Heard?) where a little girl is whispering a secret to Ed O’Neal as the other three group members look on in astonishment and dismay. 

This isn’t just a five-star recording and one of the two or three strongest releases of the year. Have You Heard? is the strongest CD the Dixie Melody Boys have ever released.

Traditional or Progressive: Straight-ahead Southern Gospel vocals, with a mix of influences on the tracks.

Group Members: Matt Felts (tenor); Josh Garner (lead); Aaron Dishman (baritone/pianist); Ed O’Neal (bass); Steven Cooper (bass guitar).

Credits: Produced by David Staton and Dirk Johnson. Special guest vocals by The Isaacs on “What Remains of Me.” Tracking engineered by Anthony Johnson. Vocals engineered by Dirk Johnson, Anthony Johnson, Steve Chandler, and Steve Allen. Mixed by Dirk Johnson. Mastered by Anthony Johnson. Photography by Don Olea. Graphic design by Kris Poovey. Musicians: Dirk Johnson (keyboards), Jimmy Carter (bass guitar), Mark Fain (upright bass), Steve Brewster (drums, percussion), Kevin Williams (acoustic guitar), Kelly Back (lead guitar), Sonny Garrish (steel guitar, resophonic guitar, pedabro), Gail Johnson (fiddle), Anthony Johnson (orchestration); David Staton (background vocals).

Five-star songs: When I Called His Name; Valley of Tears; Muddy Water; Death Has Died; That Story is Mine; Haven Called Heaven.

Song List (songwriters in parentheses): Praise the Lord, Hallelujah, Amen (Ben Scraggs); What I Lost in the Flood (Joseph Habedank, Lindsay Habedank); Roll Back (David Staton, Matt Felts); When I Called His Name (Lee Black, Kenna Turner West); God’s Gonna Give You a Testimony (Michael Jason Frost); Valley of Tears (Rodney Griffin, Joseph Habedank); Muddy Water (Jesse Schwartz, Carma Schwartz Kelley); What Remains of Me (Marty Funderburk, Jeff Pearles); Rhythm of Heaven (Toni Clay, Jeff Ferguson); Death Has Died (Ernie Haase, Carolyn Cross English); That Story is Mine (Lee Black, David Moffitt, Sue C. Smith); Have Called Heaven (Marty Funderburk, Jeff Pearles); Praise the Lord, Hallelujah, Amen (encore).

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CD Review: Redeeming the Time (Kingdom Heirs)

Redeeming the Time - Kingdom HeirsEvery generation of Southern Gospel quartets has a select few that leave a permanent mark on the genre by inspiring the next generation of singers to follow in their footsteps. Members of the Kingdom Heirs grew up listening to Gold City, the Kingsmen, and the Cathedrals; members of the next generation of Southern Gospel legends are cutting their teeth on the Kingdom Heirs. Look at “favorite singer” sections on countless regional groups’ websites, and you will probably see Kingdom Heirs members mentioned more than any other current group.

Some groups attempt to bring new fans into Southern Gospel by changing their approach to appeal to fans of other styles of music. The Kingdom Heirs bring new fans into Southern Gospel by capturing and perfecting the fundamental elements that have always defined and drawn fans to Southern Gospel.

These elements are found as strong as ever on Redeeming the Time. “Sermon on the Mount” is a strong album opener and would also make a strong concert opener. The two convention songs—”Just Beyond the Sunset” and “The Joys of Heaven”—are two of the strongest they’ve ever added to their repertoire. Toe-tappers like “Expect the Unexpected” and “Just Preach It” don’t disappoint. Among the anthems, the Jerry Martin-anchored “I Thank You” is a particularly strong arrangement and performance. And if “I’ll Know I’m Home” doesn’t get audiences shouting by the end of the final verse, nothing will.

Two songs deserve special mention: “How We Gonna Live in Babylon” and “Redeeming the Time.” (Rebecca Peck wrote the latter; she co-wrote the former with Dianne Wilkinson.) These represent a welcome trend in Southern Gospel songwriting. Much like the optimistically patriotic songs that frequently surfaced in our genre twenty years ago, they are cultural commentary. As our culture becomes increasingly hostile to Biblical Christianity, songs copying the patriotic optimism that worked so well in the 1980s and 1990s seem increasingly naive. In contrast, these two songs offer a more mature look at our current cultural milieu. Sure, we might want America back, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely that we’re going to get America back. If we don’t, we need to brace ourselves for the lions’ den. “How We Gonna Live in Babylon” explores this directed, while “Redeeming the Time” ponders how we can be “redeeming the time / in this evil day.”

Redeeming the Time is easily one of the strongest albums the Kingdom Heirs have ever released. It’s also the strongest album released so far this year, handily earning its five-star rating. No quartet fan wants to miss this album.

Traditional or Progressive: Traditional vocally; mixture of traditional and progressive instrumentally.

Group Members: Jerry Martin (tenor), Arthur Rice (lead), Steve French (baritone), Jeff Chapman (bass), Andy Stringfield (pianist), Kreis French (bass guitar), Dennis Murphy (drums).

Credits: Producers: Arthur Rice and Jeff Collins. Engineers: Van Atkins, Arthur Rice, Jerry Martin, Tim Smith. Mixed and Mastered by Arthur Rice and Zack Knudsen. Musicians: Jeff Collins (piano, keyboards), Andy Stringfield (piano, keyboards), Tony Creasman (drums, percussion), Jeremy Medkiff (bass guitar, electric guitar), David Johnson (acoustic guitar, mandolin, fiddle, resonator guitar, harmonica, steel guitar, banjo), Milton Smith (orchestrations), Steve Patrick (trumpet), Barry Green (trombone, bass trombone), Doug Moffet (tenor sax).

Song List (songwriters in parentheses): The Sermon on the Mount (Dianne Wilkinson, Rebecca Peck); Just Preach It (Dianne Wilkinson, Rebecca Peck); How We Gonna Live in Babylon? (Dianne Wilkinson, Rebecca Peck); Redeeming the Time (Rebecca Peck); Wasted Years (Wally Fowler); Just Beyond the Sunset (Dianne Wilkinson); I’ll Know I’m Home (Dianne Wilkinson, Jeff Crews), The Joys of Heaven (Dianne Wilkinson); I Thank You (Dianne Wilkinson); Expect the Unexpected (Rebecca Peck, Logan Peck); The Borrowed Tomb (Dianne Wilkinson, Rebecca Peck).

Album Rating: 5 stars.

Five-star songs: Sermon on the Mount; How We Gonna Live in Babylon; Redeeming the Time; Just Beyond the Sunset; I’ll Know I’m Home; The Joys of Heaven.

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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: 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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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: Gospel Echoes: Treasures from the Stamps Quartet Music Company (Heritage Harmony Quartet)

Gospel Echoes (Heritage Harmony Quartet)3:1 Reviews offer three highlights of an album and one area that could have been improved.

1: Concept. Few Southern Gospel releases can claim to be completely unique, but this is one of them. Shawn Degenhart, lead singer and visionary behind the project, had special access to the Stamps Quartet Music Company’s extensive 5,000+-song catalog. While every Southern Gospel fan recognizes perhaps a dozen of these songs, and committed aficionados might recognize 200, there are still thousands of forgotten gems. Degenhart brings back ten largely forgotten gems (as well as one that is slightly better remembered, “My Nonstop Flight to Glory”).

2: Performances. The performances of these forgotten gems leave nothing to be desired. With a cast including Allison Durham Speer, Stephen Hill, and Mike Allen on vocals, you know it will be good vocally. The instrumental tracks complement the vocal performances perfectly.

3: “Look for the Silver Lining”: With access to a multi-thousand song catalog, you would expect Degenhart to come upon some gems, and he does not disappoint. Of these, the strongest is certainly “Look for the Silver Lining.” It is a wonder this one hasn’t been done far more often.

:1: Nothing: This project accomplishes exactly what it sets out to achieve. Nothing could have made it stronger. It’s sheer delight for the ears of the fan of good convention singing. 

Traditional or Progressive: Delightfully traditional!

Radio Single Picks: “Look for the Silver Lining,” “Happy in Knowing.”

Album Rating: 5 stars.

Credits: Produced by: Shawn Degenhart. Review copy provided.

Members: Allison Durham Speer (alto), Stephen Hill (tenor), Shawn Degenhart (lead), Mike Allen (bass).

Song List: Song list: Gospel Echoes; On My Journey Home; My Nonstop Flight to Glory; Wonderful Savior; Happy in Knowing; I’ve Found Something; Look for the Silver Lining; Call Upon the Lord; Tell the World of Jesus; Won’t You Come with Me; God’s Beautiful Somewhere; Wonderful Savior (Bonus Track).

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3:1 DVD Review: 100 Years: A Celebration of Southern Gospel Music

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

1. Gold City set: When Brian Free, Ivan Parker, Mike LeFevre, and Tim Riley stepped on stage together for the first time in nineteen years, the atmosphere was electric. And they did not disappoint: They reminded everyone why that lineup of Gold City has been called all-star.

2. The Live Band: This is the way Southern Gospel is supposed to sound. Not only was there a live band, but the live band was in-the-pocket, knew the material, and delivered an all-around solid performance.

3. Groups Appearing: While it would be impossible to assemble an all-star program featuring every classic group with living members, Daywind accomplished more than anyone thought was possible. If you were stranded on a tropical island and could only take one DVD with you, this is the one.

:1. One thing I would change: Interlacing: The video was recorded with a professional camera and lighting crew, and looks excellent. But it would look even better if it wasn’t interlaced. (There were also a few audience shots where the aspect ratio was incorrect, but they went by fast enough that it’s a minor quibble.)

DVD Rating: 5 stars.

Cinematography: 4 stars. Average song rating: 4.5 stars.

Credits

Producer: Norman Holland. •  Review copy provided.  • Song list: This Great Caravan (New Gospel Singing Caravan); I Found a Hiding Place (New Gospel Singing Caravan); The King of Who I Am (Lulu Roman); Medley: Things Are Gonna Get Better / When I Lift Up My Head / New Shoes / Mama’s Teaching Angels How to Sing / Holy Hills of Heaven / Sheltered in the Arms of God / Remind Me Dear Lord / Too Much to Gain to Lose / He Looked Beyond My Fault (Rambos), Medley: Tears Will Never Stain / Things Are Gonna Get Better (Rambos); O For a Thousand Tongues (Nelons), We Shall Wear a Robe and Crown (Nelons); Operator (Downings); Greater is He that is In Me (Downings); I’m So Glad He Found Me (Hinsons); He Can (Hinsons); Lighthouse (Hinsons); When I Get Carried Away (Gold City); I Think I’ll Read it Again (Gold City); Midnight Cry (Gold City); Keep on the Sunny Side (Lewis Family); Something About That Name (Cathedrals Tribute); Champion of Love (Cathedrals Tribute); Home (Singing Americans); I Bowed On My Knees & Cried Holy (Singing Americans).

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3:1 Review: Treasures (Mark Trammell Quartet)

Treasures (Mark Trammell Quartet)3:1 Reviews offer three highlights of an album and one area that could have been improved.

1. Bloodwashed Band: This song has long stood in the shadow of its big brother from Travelin’ Live, “Boundless Love.” Honestly, had “Boundless Love” not been on Travelin’ Live, this song could have gone to #1 instead. It’s about time someone brought it back, and this rendition is strong enough to bring it back in a big way.

2. Wedding Music: Thanks to this videoTreasures would have not been complete without this song. The studio version of bass singer Pat Barker’s solo does not disappoint.

3. Mark Trammell’s decision to hire Pat Barker: Treasures wouldn’t have been half as good if it was cut by the Mark Trammell Trio. These songs needed a bass voice—not just any bass voice, the right bass voice. Hiring Pat was one of the smartest decisions Mark Trammell has made in his career.

:1. One thing I would change: Solos for Dustin and Joel: Granted, this is a tribute to “Pop” and “The Old Man” (who, oddly enough, aren’t named anywhere in the packaging), not the Cathedrals (who also aren’t named anywhere in the packaging!) Yet, even within the constraints of this mission and these twelve songs, Dustin could have nailed a verse of “That Day at Calvary,” and Joel could stepped up for a verse of “Then I Met the Master.”

Traditional or Progressive

Not merely traditional—delightfully traditional!

Song Selection Creativity Meter: 46%

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. For an album intended as a tribute to a specific group, that’s perhaps not the most fair metric, though, so we’ll toss in a bonus

SouthernGospelBlog.com Album Rating

Average song rating: 4.7 stars. Album Rating: 5 stars. The lack of any full-verse solos from Dustin Sweatman and Joel Wood was almost enough to cost the album a half-star. But what’s there is simply done so well that there’s no way around acknowledging Treasures as the best table project of the year.

Credits

Group members: Joel Wood (tenor), Dustin Sweatman (lead), Mark Trammell (baritone), Pat Barker (bass). • Produced by: Mark Trammell, Kevin McManus, Dustin Sweatman. • Song list: Echoes From the Burning Bush; Gentle Shepherd (live bonus cut); Bloodwashed Band; That Day at Calvary; I’ll Have a New Life / Everybody Will Be Happy Over There; Statue of Liberty; An Old Convention Song (live bonus cut); I Thirst; Master Builder; Wedding Music; Then I Met the Master; Boundless Love.

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Mega CD Review: We Will Stand Our Ground (Kingdom Heirs)

We Will Stand Our Ground - Kingdom HeirsIntroduction

Jerry Martin’s recent addition to the Kingdom Heirs made We Will Stand Our Ground one of 2011’s most anticipated projects. The project releases next Tuesday.

Over the last month, several of Southern Gospel’s longest-running and most active bloggers—Brian Crout, Adam Edwards, Wes Burke, Brandon Coomer, Aaron Swain, David Bruce Murray [EDIT, 3/16/13: Broken link removed], Steve Eaton, and me—have reviewed and discussed the project. Every now and then, with a highly anticipated project, we decide to post a joint mega review instead of separate reviews. That’s what we did here; we each took a song or two to kick off with an initial review. Then the rest posted our own thoughts and/or follow-up comments. Enjoy!

1. I’m Not Worried About Forever

Brian: The opening track is the first of several songs on the project that serve as an encouragement for the Christian of the 21st century, with lyrics that are relevant to today’s Christian experience.  There are so many things going on around us that can cause confusion and doubt, but there’s on thing that we as Christians don’t have to worry about, and that’s eternity, which is the only thing that really matters.  The chorus ends with the well-crafted hook: “I’m not worried ‘bout forever, and God’s got me covered today.”

Though the lyrics deal very much in the contemporary (including a reference to CNN), the music draws from the golden era of southern gospel, complete with plenty of major thirds and sixths.   This is a great way to start off the album for the listener needing a little lift.

Adam: When I began listening to this project, I found it odd that this one kicked it off through the first two verses.  Although the vocals are high quality (but then again, this is the Kingdom Heirs and is to be expected), this feels to me like SG easy-listening and I feel it doesn’t give the CD the kickoff it deserved.  I think it would have worked well on down into the project.

Wes: This is a pretty nondescript way to kick off the album.  It’s a decent mid to uptempo number that allows the group to showcase a very smooth blend.  It’s not going to knock your socks but the vocals are well done.  The vocals on the tag are surprisingly light and soft, but that really is keeping with the overall feel of the song.

2. Tell Me Why

DBM: “Tell Me Why” falls in that territory between a fast and medium tempo with a straight country arrangement. I’d have preferred hearing Arthur Rice keep the melody to the very end rather than handing it off to Jerry Martin and it feels like it’s about one chorus too long. Overall, though, this is precisely the sort of song I like to have lifting my spirit when I’m riding in my car.

Wes: This song is a bit more energetic than the previous song.  Jerry Martin really blends well with Arthur Rice.  I’d probably have switched this song with the one before it to give then album a little more of a punch at the start.  Solid tune.

3. I’m A Brand New Man

Steve: This is one of several songs lately that talks about Zacchaeus.  Jeff Chapman takes the lead on the verses to this up tempo number.  It speaks of Zacchaeus becoming a brand new man after his encounter with Christ and brings that message to the ‘everyday joe’ listening to the song.  While not one of the stronger songs of the recording, it is still a feel good number that Kingdom Heir fans should enjoy.

Daniel: I’d agree, but I would add that it would be one of the stronger songs on many other groups’ recordings. But this batch of songs is so strong overall that this one can get overshadowed.

Adam: I find myself really enjoying Jeff Chapman’s solos as much as his bass part.  He has turned into a great singer, as well as a great bass singer.  Sometimes I like to listen to some of his solos when he was with the Anchormen and then listen to him today so the maturity of his vocals can be appreciated.  Good stuff!

DBM: I know a lot of the focus is on what Jerry Martin adds to the Kingdom Heirs, and there’s no doubt he’s terrific. That being said, Jeff Chapman’s features on this CD are the highlight for me. I’d say this IS one of the stronger songs on this project.

Wes: Jeff Chapman shows why he’s considered one of the best basses in the business on this song.  His vocals are very well done on this driving number.  Again, this song doesn’t really reach out and grab you, but Chapman’s vocals are a definite highlight.

4. If You Give the Devil an Inch

Wes: This is a jazzy little number that features Arthur Rice on the verses with Jerry Martin taking the melody on the chorus.  The chorus features some nice thick harmonies. The Kingdom Heirs have done a lot of these jazzy type numbers and they always do them well.  Jerry Martin really sounds smooth and effortless on this one, and there are some really nice chords in the chorus.  The lyrics are pretty clever, as you’re expecting the whole “give an inch, he’ll take a mile”, but that never appears, instead it turns on a double meaning of the word “ruler.”

5. Heaven is My Goal

Brandon: “Heaven is My Goal” kicks off with some old time piano playing (in my mind, I can almost see someone tap dancing during the kick off), before settling into the feel of a classic up tempo quartet song.  Arthur Rice handles the lead during the verses and the second half of the choruses, with Jerry Martin taking the step out lines on the first half of the choruses.  Jeff Chapman isn’t the featured vocalists on this song, but he hits some good notes, especially on the end of the second verse and the song’s true ending.

An interesting twist is that the third time through the chorus, the instrumentation drops to just the piano (in the same style as the kick off and turnaround) for a couple of lines.  During this, the piano sounds like it is coming from an old LP or radio, which I think is an illusion due to the style, although it could be an intentional effect.  Either way, it adds to the classic quartet feel.

To me, this track is reminiscent of the group’s hit “I Know I’m Going There” in places.  The transitions between the kickoff and turnaround into the verses  sound a lot like the same parts of the former #1 hit.  This song also features a false ending.  As I mentioned, this song just sounds like a classic quartet song, much like the older song.  I can also see this being just as big a hit as “I Know I’m Going There”.  This is the first song on the project that grabbed my attention and is still my top pick on the CD.

Brian: While listening to the CD the first time through, I found myself saying things like “oh, that’s nice”, “pretty good song”, and “solid performance” during the first few songs.  Then “Heaven Is My Goal” played, and my reaction was “Yes! That’s what I’m talking about!”  Somebody woke up Jerry Martin!  I was demanding that final turnaround on the first listen, and I was happy to hear the quartet oblige.  This is my favorite song on the album, and I will not be surprised if a lot of people feel the same way.  Big hit, all the way.

Daniel: Brandon – I think Jeff Collins doesn’t tap dance! At any rate, I’ve never seen him do it, and he sure wasn’t when playing for this album’s tracking session!

If it wasn’t for the lyrical power of the closing song, this one might be my favorite, too. At any rate, it’s certainly one of the project’s strongest songs!

Adam: Brian, this is my favorite song on the project as well.  Although I thought Billy Hodges was a great fit with the KH, I honestly feel that Jerry Martin is the best SG tenor on the road today.  I can’t wait to see and hear how the group’s sound gels over the next year or so.

Wes: Now this is what I was looking forward to hearing from the group with Jerry Martin.  This is straight ahead quartet singing that is as good it gets.  I love this song!  The chord progression and the harmony on the line “There’s a longing deep within my soul” is especially nice.  I just wish they’d have inverted the harmony up on the final tag, but we can’t have everything.

6. It’s Real

Brian: Before joining the Kingdom Heirs in 1995, Arthur Rice traveled with Squire Parsons.  Perhaps due to Rice’s influence and as a form of tribute to the Hall of Fame singer-songwriter, the quartet has recorded several of Parsons’ older songs over the years.  Rice has taken the lead on such classics as “Hello Mama,” “He Came to Me,” “More Than I Ever Asked For,” “I Sing Because,” and of course, “Sweet Beulah Land.”  This trend continues on We Will Stand Our Ground with a song recorded by the Squire Parsons Trio and The McKameys in 1995, “It’s Real.”

“It’s Real” is a simple uptempo number with a convention feel.  Unlike the other Parsons songs mentioned above, Rice is only featured in a few step out lines in the verses.  Jeff Chapman handles the step outs in the chorus until Jerry Martin is turned loose (two octaves higher, of course) on the repeat choruses near the end of the song.  The arrangement is pleasantly simple, with a fun call-and-response ending.  This is too good a song to leave sitting on old cassettes, and I’m glad the Kingdom Heirs are helping to keep numbers like this alive.

Adam: This was a fun song to listen to.  It is also among my favorites from the project. Just good quartet singing!

Wes: I miss the days of waiting for what all Squire Parsons songs I’d hear on quartet CDs.  Squire is one of my favorite writers, and this is a very typical Squire song.  I’ll bet this one becomes a concert favorite, and would make a good radio cut as well.  Once again, I wish they’d have taken the last chord up instead of coming back down.

7. When Heaven’s Gates Swing Open Wide

Daniel: When the Cathedrals released “Oh Come Along” in ’94, McCray Dove told its author, Dianne Wilkinson, that it sounded so true to the convention song style that he looked through all his old Stamps-Baxter songbooks before realizing that it was a brand-new song.

“When Heaven’s Gates Swing Wide,” another brand-new convention song from Wilkinson, is another song that has such an authentic convention feel that it could be mistaken for a 75-year-old classic. It’s not a driving uptempo convention song; it is mid-tempo and features a lilting tenor part with lead/baritone/bass counterpoint.

Brian: Count me in the number who still loves this style of music.  Just a piano and four voices, and it does indeed sound like something right out of a 1940’s Stamps Baxter collection.

Adam: Dianne Wilkinson has a gift for writing new “Old” songs.  Songs like this feel like they came off of an old Blackwood brothers or Statesmen LP.

Daniel: I couldn’t have said it better. In fact, that’s what I took two paragraphs above to try to say!

Wes: Much like “Crown Him King” from the New Caravan CD that was recently released, Dianne Wilkinson has perfectly captured the feel of vintage SG quartet music.  I’ll add my vote in as another that still enjoys this type of music.

8. I’m Gonna Hit the Ground Running

DBM: This boogie swing track features Jeff Chapman singing the verses and digging into some massive low notes. The other vocals add a few “doo-wops” and some thick harmonies. It’s in the same vein as some of the songs Palmetto State Quartet used to do when Harold Gilley was their bass: “Jubilee’s A’Comin’” and “No Back Door To Heaven.”

Brian: Chapman shines again on this one, and I love what the rest of the guys do on the second verse to back him.  They let loose on the chorus with the jazzy chords, and end it with the classic sixth.  This one is lots of fun.

Wes: Once again Jeff Chapman hits a home run on this song that sounds like it came straight out of the 50s.  One of the things that stands out to me is the cleanness and bounciness of his solo lines.  Bass singers especially have a tendency to slur from note to note occasionally, but Chapman is very precise with his syllables and pitches.  Another really enjoyable song.

9. No Bones About It

Aaron: If there is one style of Southern Gospel that the Kingdom Heirs have really taken on as their own over the years, it’s the driving, country-style quartet song. This song about the fact of Jesus’ resurrection is no exception. I like the clever play on words that the song uses to make it’s point that the grave is empty: “No bones about it, Jesus isn’t there!” Jeff Chapman’s low note lead-ins to each chorus are reminiscent in sound to Matt Fouch of Soul’d Out Quartet, and indeed, the entire song sounds like something that the young quartet would do, especially with Jerry Martin’s more open tenor tone than the group has usually known. Look for this to go over well for the group in concerts.

Daniel: The song was co-written by Kingdom Heirs drummer Dennis Murphy and Dianne Wilkinson; Murphy had the idea and the chorus, and Wilkinson finished the song.

Wes: Chapman really drags the bottom on the chorus on this country flavored tune.  Another solid tune, but to me isn’t quite as strong as the previous few cuts.

10. Where’s John

Aaron: Jeff Chapman steps out front to deliver this chilling new song. Daniel made the comment earlier in a discussion that this song would find a place on a list of the “Top Ten Creepiest Southern Gospel Songs,” and that statement would be correct!

The song is written from the perspective of an unsaved man who is looking for his brother, John, who has mysteriously gone missing. While the Rapture is never directly mentioned, the listener can tell that it is the setting for the story from various lines, which refer to the cemetery being robbed and “open graves all over the place,” as well as “many people missing.” The storyteller mentions the fact that John told him over and over about Jesus’ eventual return, but he just laughed it off. The chorus reveals his despair as he cries out to God asking, “Where’s John?”

Aside from the fact that the song’s lyrical content is attention-grabbing in and of itself, Chapman’s performance is no slouch either; indeed, it may be one of the best of his career. His tone is smooth throughout, and the very tangible emotion in his delivery helps propel the lyric. He displays quite a vocal range for a bass as well, topping off on the bridge with a high B (maybe some of the more musically educated among us can tell me the exact term for that note!) and then ending the song in “Tim Riley territory.” All in all, this song will be one of the most talked about when this project hits stores.

Daniel: I would have to agree, this song is easily one of the definitive performances of Jeff Chapman’s career. In fact, I will go farther: I could not point to any other performance that better shows the spectrum of his abilities.

Aaron, technically it’s a B3, but in our genre, someone says B3 and we think “Hammond Organ”! So maybe we could just say “the B a note below middle C.”

Aaron: Thanks, Daniel. I was thinking about going ahead and calling it that, but figured I’d better see if there was a technical name to put first!

DBM: Aaron, you could just say it’s MIDI note number 59. LOL

Brian: Lyrically it reminds me of “The Last Sunday”.  Vocally it reminds me of Chapman singing “Good News From the Graveyard”.  Musically it sounds like something from Carlos Santana.  This is definitely the most outside-the-box song on the project, but it works.  Chapman absolutely delivers the goods here.

Adam: I really like this song.  Hopefully they will sing this at Dollywood and maybe some people will ponder on the message behind it.  I think this song could be a great witnessing tool for the group.  The vocals are cool enough and good enough to grab your attention and the message in the lyrics is powerful.  I loved it!

Wes: This is a pretty unique cut, done totally in a minor key.  It almost has a little bit of a Latin feel, the comparison to Santana is probably as close as I could guess as well.  I don’t know that the song would make a big radio hit, but it’s definitely different.  I have a feeling that there won’t be much middle ground on this song.  You’re either going to like it or not.  I like it.

11. Just Preach Jesus

Adam: In a quartet, it is often the singers instead of the song that grab our attention.  This song gives us the best of both.  The vocals on this cut are excellent, but even more impressive to me are the lyric they sing.  Although there is a simplicity to the hook of the song, it speaks volumes in just the 3 words alone “Just….Preach….Jesus”. Too many times I’ve heard preachers chase rabbits from the pulpit about opinions and denominations. This is a message that needs to be stressed to a lot of preachers in our day.  Don’t focus on church politics, worldly influences or man’s opinions….Just Preach Jesus!

Daniel: I had the opportunity to be in the studio on tracking day, and when I heard this song, I thought it would be the big hit for sure. Though I revised my analysis slightly when I heard the final track, this is still one of the project’s strongest songs and would go over well both in radio and at concerts.

Brian: I like how the song takes its title and theme straight from scripture: the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.  Phillip opened the scriptures to Isaiah 53 and preached to him Jesus.  What a great precedent!  The second verse takes us directly to Acts 8, making this one a great candidate for my Songs from Scripture series.

Adam: Yes….this is a scripturally sound song and one of my favorites from the project!

Wes: This a return to straight ahead quartet style, and it’s probably placed in a good spot here after the “what was that??” factor of the previous song.  The Kingdom Heirs have always excelled at singing straight ahead traditional quartet music, and this song is a good example.

12. We Will Stand Our Ground

Daniel: I’ll have to admit that this song didn’t blow me away the first time I heard it. But that’s only because I was on such a five-star song overload after songs 5-11 that I was tuning everything out! The album keeps building throughout, and this last track is no exception.

The second time I played through the song, I was paying attention. That time, I was so blown away by the power of the lyric—and the delivery—that I honestly ran out of words to describe it. “Monumental” came to mind, but somehow that didn’t seem strong enough. “An anthem for a generation of American Christians” was closer.

It took me weeks to come up with a term I think is fitting: This song is signature song caliber. This should be for the Kingdom Heirs what “Champion of Love” was for the Cathedrals, what “Midnight Cry” was for Gold City, and what “Four Days Late” was for Karen Peck and New River. This song has the confidence, authority, energy, and lyrical power of a breakout hit. It’s one of the strongest songs Dianne Wilkinson has ever written.

Brian: I too find myself loving this song more every time I hear it.  I can see this being the song the Kingdom Heirs end every concert with as long as they exist.  I’m excited to hear what it will sound like live, because to me the quartet voices get lost a little bit at the end amid the background vocals.  But this song is about the lyrics, and this is one of the most powerfully relevant songs I can remember hearing.  This is a message the world needs, and southern gospel music needs.

Adam: This is a good song, but I find myself skipping it on most plays.  Vocal quality is top-notch, but this song reminds me of “Truth Is Marching On” which was recorded by what seemed to be every major SG group and run into the ground.  I wasn’t a fan of that song and I’m not much on this one either.  I prefer to hear the quartet sing and this song is filled with stacks and choir background vocals.  This song is just too over the top for my tastes.

Wes: It’s interesting that they only recorded one ballad, and stuck it at the very end of the CD.  It’s a great lyric, strong performance, though I’d have rather not had the choir backing up the group and just kept it as a quartet vocal only.  My only concern is that with so many similar sounding songs in tracks 1-11, this song won’t have the listener’s full attention that it deserves. I don’t know that I agree with Daniel, I don’t think it’s quite up to “signature song” quality, but it’s a strong song, to be sure.

Summaries

Brian: This is a very strong overall collection of songs, with really only one song that has me reaching for the skip button.  Individually, Jeff Chapman turns in three of the best performances of his career in his feature songs, including what should be his signature song in “Where’s John?”  Chapman shows off a terrific singing voice and huge low notes, a combination only rivaled today by Tim Riley himself.  Individually, he’s the star of the project. The rest of the quartet don’t stand out much individually; Steve French has zero solo lines on the project, Jerry Martin only sings a solo verse once, and Arthur Rice handles the rest.  But the quartet blend is as good as it’s ever been for the Kingdom Heirs, and might be the best in all of gospel music today.

The title track is the only slow-tempo song on the project, but there’s still enough variety of styles in the other songs to keep the listener on his toes.  Really, almost every song on the project could go over very well on the radio, so it will be interesting to see the choices for singles.  “Heaven Is My Goal” should be a big hit, and “We Will Stand Our Ground” is the showstopper.  The rest of the songs are very even and enjoyable.  I’ve been listening to the CD in my car for a while now, and have not had a desire to stop yet.  We Will Stand Our Ground gets an easy 5 stars from me. Album rating: 5 stars.

Steve: Have we forgotten the kind of music the Kingdom Heirs can produce?  I miss Arthur’s big power ballads.  Songs like “Forever Changed” and “He Had To Rise” are missed on We Will Stand Our Ground.  With the exception of the title track all other 11 songs are in the mid to up tempo range.

Strongest songs on the recording are “Heaven Is My Goal”, “Just Preach Jesus”, “It’s Real” and “No Bones About It”.  Kingdom Heir fans will no doubt love this collection.  I was expecting something more.  Average song rating:  3.75 (of 5).

Adam: Since this is the first project with Jerry Martin, I knew that the Kingdom Heirs would have a different sound from all of their other recordings.  I have long felt that Martin is the top SG tenor on the road and this CD is (hopefully) just the beginning of great things to come for the group.

There are some great songs on this project like “Heaven Is My Goal”, “It’s Real”, “Where’s John?” & “Just Preach Jesus”.  The title track, while not one of my favorites, should be a great radio release for the group.  After listening to this project several times, I feel it’s a great beginning for what I feel could be one of the greatest vocal lineups that SG has ever seen.

Steve French remains an underutilized member of the group as far as features are concerned and this project is evidence of that statement.  I miss songs like “Now I Am On My Way To Heaven” where all parts are featured.  Sure, the other three parts are fantastic in this group, but for me something seems to be missing.  Maybe next time…

Overall, I think that this is a good CD from the Kingdom Heirs, but I am left longing for true ‘4-part’ harmony so I can’t give this CD a true 5 star rating. However, I am positive that anyone that listens to or buys this project will enjoy it. Album rating: 4.5 stars.

DBM: This is my favorite Kingdom Heirs CD in several years. The addition of Jerry Martin has given the Kingdom Heirs a “punch” on the top end, and we can always depend on Arthur Rice, but the real story here is Jeff Chapman. My quartet had the opportunity to open for the KHs several weeks ago, and he sounded HUGE that night. The studio did a great job capturing his energy for this CD.

It doesn’t bother me in the least that Arthur Rice and Jeff Chapman have the lion’s share of the features, or that this CD is slim on ballads. Those are the two guys I most wanted to hear, and I’ve never cared much for CDs that drag! Album rating: 5 Stars.

Aaron: After the release of When You Look At Me, the group’s previous project, I was left wanting something more, as that project was not my cup of tea. The song selection was overall unremarkable and did not quite measure up to the quality of True To The Call, in this blogger’s humble opinion. When the group announced the departure of tenor Billy Hodges and the subsequent hiring of Jerry Martin, my interest piqued for the next project. However, there was the underlying sense that the new lineup’s undoubtedly stellar vocals would be mired in ho-hum songs.

We Will Stand Our Ground delivered in every way.

Obviously, the biggest draw to this project for fans of the Kingdom Heirs is the aforementioned hire of Jerry Martin. Martin’s tones give the quartet a great boost; his is a more open sound than that of his predecessor, and his effortless higher range is given a workout on this project. Arthur Rice’s lead is given several great features, as is Jeff Chapman’s bass, which has developed into a well-oiled singing machine over the years. Baritone Steve French gets zero features throughout, but that did not occur to me until several listens through, proving how fine a job the others did. We Will Stand Our Ground is sure to go down as a career project for the Kingdom Heirs. Album rating: 5 stars

Wes: When you see a new CD by the Kingdom Heirs, you pretty much know what to expect. Traditional quartet singing that is performed well.  This CD is no exception.  There are 3 or 4 tracks that are standouts, especially “Heaven Is My Goal” and “It’s Real” that should leave the crowds at Dollywood begging for more.  The addition of Jerry Martin skyrockets the potential of this vocal lineup.  Martin fits the group like a glove, and his voice blends extremely well with that of Arthur Rice.  Arthur Rice is basically a computer when it comes to lead singing, you know exactly what you’re going to get from him every time.  Jeff Chapman really shines on this disc as well.  This is a solid start, still, there seems to be some unfulfilled potential in this recording.  Album Rating:  4 stars.

Brandon: I may be one of the only ones, but I am disappointed with this project.  Maybe my expectations were too high, but I find much of the recording boring and too formulaic.  It sounds too much like the group’s previous two CDs.  When I first listened to this CD, in my mind I was matching songs from this project to songs from previous CDs.  Of course, this may just be a case of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”

On the positive side, Jerry Martin adds a lot vocally to the group.  That isn’t a slight towards Billy Hodges.  Jerry would add a lot to any group.  Also, this recording shows Jeff Chapman at his very best.  I don’t think Jeff has ever sounded better.

Even though I’m disappointed, I will say this is a very good recording.  Vocally, the Kingdom Heirs are one of the very best quartets in the business.  Musically, I would have liked something that didn’t strike me as too similar to their older material. Album Rating:  4 stars

Daniel: This is the strongest collection of songs the Kingdom Heirs have released yet—for my individual song ratings, only three songs (two through four) got four stars, and the rest of the album was one five-star song after another.

The vocal and instrumental arrangements are solid enough that they would propel other projects to five-star status. But they’re not the stars of the show here; that distinction would certainly fall to the songs. The Kingdom Heirs have been criticized before for cutting mostly Dianne Wilkinson songs. But more than ever before, this is the album where that pays off. Ten of the twelve songs are written or co-written by Wilkinson, and it should be safe to say that she has never had a stronger bevy of cuts on a single project of new songs.

Oh, and Wes, I’ve never heard a singer compared to a computer before, and I imagine this is the first time that comparison has ever been made as a compliment! Average song rating: 4.8 stars (of 5). Album rating: 5 stars.

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