April 22, 2009 1 Comment
“Taking musical risks keeps us and the music fresh.” This statement was made to me by Rich Crist in discussing this, the Crist Family’s newest release titled Declaration. Be looking for an interview with Rich in the next few days, but first let’s talk about the album. This album is chock full of “musical risks”, and in this reviewer’s opinion, overwhelmingly succeeds. Since I got an actual CD from the group, I have access to liner notes, which details the featured vocalist(s) on each song. This is very much appreciated, thanks guys for including the information!
- Declaration Of The Christ – The album gets started with this mid to uptempo song from the pen of Sandy Knight. It’s very progressive, borrowing a bit of its feel from 80s pop. It almost sounds like something from the Russ Taff era Imperials. Rich Crist and Tami Starkel are featured on this song, and it serves as a great opener to the disc. Not only is it a declaration of Christ’s Messiahship and a “Christian creed”, but it also serves as a musical declaration that this group is taking a major step forward. Wonderful opening song. 9/10
- Nothin’ But Good – This song, written by Rebecca Peck and John Mathis, Jr., has recently been released by Crossroads as the debut single from the project. It’s got a bit of a soul feel that really showcases Tami Starkel’s vocals. As this group does so well, they weave some nice think harmonies around Tami’s lead vocal. This type of song is one of the styles that the group really excels in singing. Tami Starkel has the soul and power in her voice to really pull this off. Good choice for a radio single. 8.5/10
- My Heart Knows – Gary Coolbeth contributed this beautiful song. Jackie Crist takes the lead, and the only other vocals are her older sister Breana and her dad Rich. The song is given an Allison Krauss type arrangement, and the lyrics are a wonderful message of reassurance of salvation amidst intellectual doubts and challenges. Jackie puts the perfect interpretation on this song, and makes it one of the highlights of the album. The trio harmonies are spectacular. This may be a great followup single. 10/10
- Start With Me – This is the first big “musical risk” on the album. Rich Crist sings this song with all female background vocals. Written by Marty Funderburk and Paul Williams, this song would have been right at home on Contemporary Christian radio 10-15 years ago. Programmed percussion, some stinging guitars and powerful vocals by Rich and the ladies highlight this great song about personal reflection on each of our own Christian walks. The arrangement on this song steps way out of the box of typical SG fare, but it is also one of my absolute favorites on the album. Rich does an incredible job on his vocal and shows some nice power and range, especially after the key change. Can I give this a 12/10? I absolutely love this song. 10/10
- He Knows The Way Home – Here comes another surprise. From the pen of David Patillo, this song features Tom Joyce with a lead vocal in a higher bass or baritone range. The choruses feature a male trio with Tom keeping the lead and John Starkel and Rich Crist stacked above him. There are also some sparse female background harmonies beginning with the second verse and continuing on occasion throughout the rest of the song. Stylistically this is a country flavored ballad. Tom does a good job on his feature. The placement of this song is interesting right next to a heavily progressive “Start With Me”. Putting the song at this point in the CD almost serves as a reminder to the listener that while the Crist Family will push the musical envelope, they are still solidly a SG group. Good song. 8/10
- Only What God Can Do – This song, penned by Sandy Knight and Rodney Birch, represents another big risk. This is the most involved and advanced arrangement on the album. The song starts with a progressive, syncopated rhythm in a minor key for the verses, the first of which is sung by Tami Starkel and Breana Crist, the second performed by Tami and Rich Crist. The chorus changes to a major key and changes to a straight ahead 4/4 rhythm, except for the last two lines, which return to the syncopated beat of the verses. Then there is the bridge which occurs twice. It’s given almost a funk treatment with some heavy vocal effects applied to the round-like vocals. After the bridge that follows the second chorus, the key modulates up a half step and the chorus is repeated. Then the bridge is repeated in an abbreviated form to a tag with nice tight harmonies. It really is an incredibly inventive arrangement, and I love it. 9/10
- The Rock – Once again the risk is followed by a more straightforward SG song, this time a fairly traditional midtempo anthemic song penned by Joseph Habedank and Matthew Holt. The verses feature a solo by Rich Crist, a trio with Rich, Lisa Crist, and Tami Starkel, and then a solo by Tami. While the arrangement on this isn’t an adventurous one like the previous song, the song itself is in no way weaker. On the contrary, this is a very powerful song about the Resurrection. This should become a very popular song for the Crist Family. 9/10
- There’s A Song In There Somewhere – This is a nice ballad that has a bit of an Adult Contemporary feel to it. The song features Rich with all female background vocals again. This is a very pretty song written by Sue Smith and Joel Lindsey that is performed beautifully by Rich and the ladies. It’s not flashy, but very pretty. 8/10
- I’ll Sing A New Song – John Robinson contributed this song, which is given an uptempo “newgrass” flavored treatment. John Starkel get the lead on the first verse, and sings the second verse as a duet with Breana Crist. The chorus features some great group vocals, and the bridge lets Jackie Crist get a couple of solo lines in. Another good, solid tune. I am glad that John gets a feature here, as his baritone vocals may be overlooked, but really provide the richness to the blend of the group and allows Tom Joyce to sing some nice low bass notes, especially on their acappella numbers. Great job, John! This song gets your toes tapping. 9/10
- There Is No Other Name – Rebecca Peck and Steve Cheney wrote this song, and it is absolutely spectacular. It is given an Inspirational ballad arrangement, and features Tami Starkel on the first verse, but the rest of the song is full group vocals. Very powerful lyrics, and a power harmony filled arrangement make for another highlight of the album. The tag leads up to an incredibly high power ending. This song may well become the signature song for the group and I would definitely release this song to radio. What a terrific song. This is another one I’d love to give a 12. Fantastic. 10/10
- More Than Wonderful – Lanny Wolfe’s classic that was recorded by Sandi Patti and Larnelle Harris is given the Crist Family’s acappella treatment. As with their previous acappella numbers, there is thick lush harmony throughout, and Tami Starkel and Rich Crist take the duet lines by Patti and Harris surrounded by a wall of vocal harmonies. The Crist Family is simply amazing when it comes to acappella singing and arranging. 10/10
Overall: 10 This is the first CD that I’ve rated as a 10/10, but this one is absolutely worth it. I really can’t fault anything here. The song selection is strong, and represents a major step forward from their previous releases, which were already good. I don’t know of another group in Southern Gospel music that puts as much effort into their arrangements or challenges themselves musically more than the Crist Family (except maybe the Ball Brothers), and though they really stuck their necks out on some of these arrangements, they’ve pulled them off masterfully. While there is a wide variety of styles on the disc, and a lot of different featured vocalists (which is very welcome and nice to see), the album still feels well put together, and not a mish mash of songs and styles, as it well could have been. A ton of credit goes to Rich Crist and Jeff Collins for their work producing this album. Declaration is absolutely a must-have for this year, and serves as a declaration that the Crist Family is stepping up as a major player in SG music. This is an absolutely incredible album, and all involved should be extremely proud of their efforts. Declaration, indeed.