Review: Beyond The Ashes – Living In The Moment

This is the first release on Ernie Haase and Wayne Haun’s StowTown label for Beyond The Ashes, and also marks lead singer Dustin Doyle’s first mainline project since joining with tenor Anthony Facello and baritone Kellan Monroe.  Wayne Haun produced this album for Beyond The Ashes.

Tracks:

  1. So Amazing To Me – Written by Wayne Haun and Rachel McCutcheon, the CD gets off to a bit of a mellow start with this smooth ballad that has a bit of a pop/R&B feel.  Anthony Facello has the melody line with Doyle and Monroe underneath him for the first verse and chorus.  Facello sings the second verse solo before being rejoined by the other vocalists for the ensuing chorus.  The lyric is structured and reminiscent of something that would come out of the modern P&W movement.  There’s some really nice harmony and chord progressions on the bridge.  I’m a sucker for a major 7th chord.  The first two lines of “Amazing Grace” end the bridge with a key change and repeat of the chorus.  It’s a good way to start.  Fairly subdued, but with flashes of what’s to come on the disc.  8.5/10
  2. Living In The Moment – Fans of rock music may recognize this Jason Mraz tune that was penned by Mraz and Richard Nowels.  Dustin Doyle is given the lead on this tune, and it’s a great fit for his voice.  This is a midtempo song that has a bouncy pop feel.  While the song is not an explicit gospel message, it is a good message about worry that puts to mind the listener of the words of Christ to not worry about tomorrow.  Dustin has the verses solo, with Facello joining on the last line or two of the verses and Monroe joining on the chorus.  This style fits the group well, and shows off their smooth blend.  The fact that it is a secular song may turn some people off, but I really like it, and it fits the group perfectly.  9/10
  3. Oh The Thought That Jesus Loves Me – Originally recorded by The Collingsworth Family, this song from Wayne Haun and Lyn Rowell and is given a similar acoustic ballad treatment here.  Beyond The Ashes may have actually slowed the tempo just a bit from the Collingsworths version.  Anthony Facello and Dustin Doyle trade off on the melody line through the first verse and chorus.  The key changes and Monroe takes the second verse as a solo.  Doyle takes the third verse and makes a strong debut.  He’s got a strong voice, but can sing incredibly smooth as well.  The chorus has a fantastic smooth sound.  9/10
  4. No Sin Greater Than God’s Grace – Anthony Facello and Rachel McCutcheon contributed this midtempo pop flavored ballad.  Facello takes the solo on the verses and keeps the melody through the chorus.  Anthony has really developed into a top notch tenor vocalist from his days with Heaven Bound and the Journeymen.  This is another solid tune that has a neat key change at the end of the bridge.  It would actually make for a good radio release.  It shows their progressive style without being too far “out there.”  8.5/10
  5. Peace In The Midst Of The Storm – Written by Stephen Adams, this is a soulful ballad that features Dustin Doyle.  Doyle will likely make a lot of fans with this song.  It could very well become a sugar stick for him.  The first verse is fairly subdued with some nice vocals from the group in the chorus.  After another fairly subdued second verse, the key goes up a half step and Doyle shines on the third verse.  It’s actually one of the more traditional sounding cuts on the disc, but it’s a good performance.  The only little quirk I have is the ending is fairly plain and a bit abrupt.  Minor quibble on a nice song.  8.5/10
  6. Walking With My Eyes On Jesus – Rachel McCutcheon wrote midtempo song that returns to the bouncy pop/R&B feel that again features Dustin Doyle.  Once again, Doyle shines on this tune.  It’s a catchy tune and lyric that will get stuck in your head.  Solid song.  8.5/10
  7. I Can’t Do This By Myself – Joel Lindsey and Wayne Haun penned this ballad that features Anthony Facello.  It’s a nice lyric that reminds us of our inability to live a life pleasing to God in our own strength.  The chorus features some nice harmonies from the trio.  The last couple of lines have a unique rhythm to them, almost as if there is a line of lyric missing.  It’s still a very solid cut that wouldn’t sound out of place on a  Brian Free and Assurance album.  9/10
  8. Where The Gold Begins – Kellan Monroe is featured on this tune from the team of Carl Cartee, Joseph Dustin Daniels, Allen Stanford Dukes, David Blake Neesmith, Aaron Daniel Tomberlin, and Nathan Timothy Tomberlin.  It’s an acoustic pop flavored midtempo tune.  Once again, this song fits Kellan’s voice perfectly.  It’s a story song about an elderly saint’s last moments on Earth and first moments in Heaven.  I love the line that directly compares the two locations, “I’ve finally reached the place where gravel ends, and gold begins.”  Monroe’s voice has a gritty edge to edge that communicates well in this style.  Don’t miss this song, it’s a definite highlight of the disc.  9.5/10
  9. When Love Whispers Your Name – This song comes from the pens of Ernie Haase and Joel Lindsey.  Dustin Doyle is featured on this moving ballad.  I love the touch of the first verse starting with just Doyle’s vocal and solo piano.  There’s no high ending, nothing incredibly flashy, but Dustin does a great job putting the right amount of emotion in this tender lyric.  Another very solid song.  8.5/10
  10. Your Love Comes Shining Through – Wayne Haun and Jimmy Yeary contribute this bouncy little tune featuring Dustin Doyle.  This is another pop styled tune that works very well for the group.  It’s another really catchy tune, from the piano on the introduction to the end of the tag.  This is a song that leaves your toe tapping and smile plastered on your face.  Doyle’s lead vocal on this song is spot on.  This would also make a great radio choice.  9/10
  11. Over For Good – The disc concludes with this song from the songwriting combo of Marcy Each, Karen Gillespie, and Kimberly Walling Ford.  The soulful sound comes back on this tune that features Dustin Doyle.  Once again, while the vocals are very much soul influenced with pop stylings, the track is fairly standard fare for SG listeners.  Doyle does a great job on this song that concludes the CD with a great performance.  9/10

Overall: 9  There may not be a huge, knock your socks off song on this album, but there also isn’t one that will have you reaching for the skip button.  Beyond The Ashes has really found their niche on the pop/R&B progressive end of the Southern Gospel spectrum, and the addition of Dustin Doyle has solidified their spot.  Mark it down, Dustin Doyle will be recognized as one of the genre’s top lead vocalists, and sooner rather than later.  Anthony Facello has developed a nice strong, full tone with a lot of soul in the tenor spot, Doyle is a star in the making, and Monroe has one of the most unique baritone voices in SG music.  These three guys are all outstanding vocalists, and producer Wayne Haun really brought out the best in them on this album.  While there may not be the one great song on this disc, it’s chock full of very good songs, the performances are exquisite, the arrangements well done, and this is one of the strongest CDs I’ve had the opportunity to review in quite a while.  Don’t miss out on this CD, it is a job well done!

Review: Sounds Of Jericho – The Story Of His Grace

sojIt’s not often that the opportunity presents itself to review a group’s debut project, but I am excited to do just that for this quartet.  Bass Stacy Bragg and tenor Stephen Sigmon were original members of the Lefevre Quartet, and they’ve joined forces with Matt Tyler and Ken Thomas to form Sounds of Jericho.  This CD was produced by Mark Dowdy.

Tracks:

  1. Deeper Journey – A collaboration between Rob Johnson, Gene Pistill, and Michael Puryear, this is a mid to uptempo tune with a country feel.  The first verse builds up starting from baritone Ken Thomas for the first couple of lines then Stacy Bragg has a solo line or two.  The chorus features some nice smooth harmonies.  Nothing flashy here, but it’s a good solid song that showcases the group’s blend.  7/10
  2. If The Lord Wasn’t Walking By My Side – Henry Slaughter’s classic is given a bit of a funky, soulful, brass driven makeover that works very well.  It’s a bit reminiscent of something Gold City would have done in the late 90s or early 2000s.  High energy, and it’s great to hear this song brought back in a more inventive fashion.  This is a bit of a risk, with a song so closely associated with the Statesmen, but the inventive arrangement pays its own form of tribute to the pace setting quartet of yesteryear.  8.5/10
  3. Living Testimony – Penned by Michael Puryear and Gina Vera, this is a beautiful ballad sung by baritone Ken Thomas.  I love the opening line “Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.”  It’s a great lyric that reminds us of our responsibility to share in words and deeds the good news found in Christ.  Very pretty song.  8.5/10
  4. Resting Place – This is not the song made famous years ago by the Wilburns, but instead this is a song written by the team of Rob Johnson, Gene Pistill, and Michael Puryear and is performed completely acappella.  It’s not a little surprising that a new group would stick their vocals out front like this on their debut, but these guys do a fine job.  There’s a nice key change toward the end of song that is done flawlessly. Nice cut.  7.5/10
  5. Wayfaring Stranger – Matt Tyler and Stacy Bragg are featured on this classic by Charles Davis Tillman.  It’s given a country/bluegrass treatment that works pretty well.  This song is commonly done as a bass lead, so to hear Sounds of Jericho feature their lead singer on the first verse is a nice change.  This is a very solid version of the song, and Bragg does a fine job on his feature.  He really has a nice bass voice.  8/10
  6. Spread It Around – Written by Joseph Habedank, Dwight Liles, and Michael Puryear, this midtempo tune has a bit of a bouncy, brassy pop type feel that features each vocalist on a line of the first verse before Matt Tyler takes the melody for the chorus.  The round robin lead continues on the second verse.  The chorus features some call and response lines, as well as some nice unison in addition to the full quartet harmonies.  After a bridge of “I Love To Tell The Story”, the chorus repeats twice before ending.  Another good solid tune. 8.5/10
  7. Jesus Never Changes – From the pen of Paula Stefanovich and Michael Puryear comes this ballad that features Stephen Sigmon.  Sigmon isn’t the highest tenor you’ll hear, but he’s got a nice full sound that is very pleasing to the ear.  It’s a good lyric that reminds us that even though Christ never changes, He causes complete change in us.  Sigmon has the melody on the verses and the first chorus, then Matt Tyler takes the second chorus with the harmony inverted up. After a bridge of “Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand” and a key change, Sigmon takes the melody again.  Solid song.  7/10
  8. Standing In The Storm – Michael Puryear, Dwight Liles, Laureen Smith, and Gwen Moore penned this midtempo country flavored tune featuring Matt Tyler.  The chorus features some nice harmony from the group.  Much like the opening track, there isn’t a whole lot of flash here, just some solid quartet singing. The tag is nice.  7/10
  9. I’d Rather Have Jesus – This song has gained some poignancy since the death of George Beverly Shea, who put the music to Rhea F. Miller’s lyrics.  This is given an acoustic treatement, and I love the cello that is prominent in the introduction.  The first verse features Stacy Bragg, who does a great job singing the song and letting the melody shine.  Stephen Sigmon has the melody on the first half of the chorus that has some gorgeous block harmony. Bragg takes a solo line and the group sings unison on the last line of the chorus.  Sigmon takes the melody on the second verse that builds to a nice high last line leading back into the chorus with Matt Tyler resuming the lead.  The tag has some beautiful harmonies.  It’s an understated arrangement, but it’s beautiful in its simplicity.  9/10
  10. Leave The Light On – Kenna West, Dwight Liles, and Michael Puryear contributed this country tinged midtempo tune that features Matt Tyler.  This is the first single from the album.  The last chorus features a nice cascade of harmonies behind a solo line from Tyler that serves to set it apart from the rest of the song.  It’s a solid tune that should serve as a good introduction to the group.  7.5/10
  11. Ten Thousand Angels – Once again a familiar title, but new song written by Mark Dowdy and Vince Wilcox, this is a progressive styled ballad featuring Matt Tyler.  I like this lyric in the chorus: “what made Your grace amazing was what you could have done, but did not do.”  This is a really nice ballad that would make a nice follow up single for the group.  8/10
  12. Operator – William Spivery’s classic made famous by The Downings is covered here with a pop feel that is almost Huey Lewis and The News-like.  It just needs the horn section, but gives us a rock organ flavor instead.  There’s a choir that comes in with the call/response of the chorus.  There’s a nice guitar solo in the instrumental break before the quartet comes back in.  I think this is well done, and it’s different enough from both the Downings version and the later Dove Brothers version to make it unique.  8/10

Overall 8  This is a good debut for the group, and 12 songs on the CD is a nice surprise when most established groups only give you 10.  Four of the twelve are covers, but even in that the selection is nice, as two of them, “If The Lord” and “Operator”, aren’t songs you would immediately think of for a group to cover.  I’ll echo what Aaron Swain said in his review that the vocalists all seem to have a good idea of their vocal ranges and don’t stray from where they are comfortable singing, which is always a plus.  Sigmon has a nice full sound to his voice, Tyler carries his lion’s share of lead vocals admirably, Thomas has a smooth baritone voice that gets the chance to show a little range by occasionally jumping above Tyler’s lead, and Bragg sounds like he hasn’t missed a beat since leaving the Lefevre Quartet.  Putting an acappella song on your debut album takes some guts, and they pulled it off pretty well.  This is solid start, and I’ll be interested in watching how this group grows and forms their own identity over subsequent projects.  Good job guys!

Review: The Dills – Before The Rain

Before The Rain is the latest release from the Dills.  Bridget, LeeAnn, Shawn, and Tim Dill as always provide the vocals on this album, which was produced by Matthew Holt and Donna Beauvais King.

Tracks:

  1. A Song To Sing – The CD gets off to a nice start with this Kenna West/Paula Stefanovich tune that has a mid to uptempo pop flavored sound.  The verses are done primarily in unison, but there are some nice 4 part harmony chords on the end phrases of alternating lines that are very nice.  Immediately you are served notice that The Dills have stepped up the vocal arrangements.  The group splits into full harmony mode for the chorus that features a nice descending chord pattern.  LeeAnn Dill handles the melody line very well throughout the chorus.  I love the bridge that features step out lines from LeeAnn, Bridget, and Shawn with nice harmonies behind them before the key changes and the chorus is repeated.  This is really nice, catchy song that would make a good choice as a radio single.  9/10
  2. Before The Rain – The title track was written by the team of Lee Black, Gina Boe, and Lisa Qualsett and it’s a mellow acoustic ballad that features Tim Dill.  What a fantastic lyric that reminds us that when we’re in the midst of trials, we should praise God for the blessings he has provided before and will provide in the future.  The chorus features some simple but pretty harmonies behind Tim’s lead vocal.  This is the most expressive and tender vocal that Tim has committed to record.  I have to think that this song will touch a lot of people and really hit them where they live.  It’s easily the best, most powerful lyric on an album that is full of good lyrics.  It may be a bit too mellow for radio, but it’s likely the strongest song on the album.  9.5/10
  3. I Still Trust You – James McFall wrote this power ballad that was originally recorded by the McFalls, and later covered by the Dunaways.  Bridget Dill takes the melody on this song, and does a great job with it.  I’ve heard at least one of the previous versions of this song, if not both, but I think the Dills have the most polished version I’ve heard.  Bridget’s lead vocal is spot on, and there’s a nice little duet section in the chorus with LeeAnn.  After the key changes toward the end of the song, there’s a neat little 2nd suspension that LeeAnn sings in the harmony stack on the phrase “When I don’t know…” that is a perfect example of the nice vocal touches that are present on this CD that have been missing from The Dills’ previous recordings.  It’s just one example of the work the group put into this recording.  8.5/10
  4. Something To Say – This is another pop style ballad from the pens of Marty Funderburk and Scott Godsey, this time featuring Shawn Dill.  The verses almost have a similar feel to the 80s Police classic “Every Step You Take.”  The lyric is a great message of encouragement to share the Gospel with those we come into contact with daily, and the reminder that God will give you “something to say.”  The chorus features some incredibly smooth harmony.  I love the sliding harmonies on the tag as well.  This is another great potential radio song, even if it is a little progressive for SG.  A highlight of the CD.  10/10
  5. I Wouldn’t Change It – Written by Marty Funderburk and Steve Marshall, LeeAnn Dill steps to the plate on this tender ballad.  LeeAnn sings this pretty ballad beautifully and expressively.  The chorus features an interesting chord progression on the phrase “but I wouldn’t change it.”  It’s another great message of encouragement when times are tough, and knowing that God knows what is best for us, no matter the circumstances.  Very pretty song and one of LeeAnn’s best vocal performances, rating alongside of “I Quit” from Story Of A Lifetime.  8/10
  6. As For Me And My House – Tim Sheppard contributes this midtempo song that features a bit of a Praise and Worship feel.  The song starts with the first verse sung almost entirely in unison, with the last line being done in 2 parts.  The chorus features some nice 4 part harmonies before a round like bridge of “We will serve Him/For He is worthy” that builds up into some nice chords.  Again, the 4 part harmony features some nice “out of the ordinary” vocal parts that are new to the group, but it sounds fantastic.  After the group tags the song in unison, the piano comes back in and Tim and Bridget’s twin daughters sing a nice reprise of the “We will serve Him” bridge.  Another solid song.  8.5/10
  7. A King And A Pauper – This is a very progressive midtempo tune featuring Shawn Dill that was written by Brian Arnold.  It’s a brand new song, but sounds like something you’d find on a David Phelps solo album with a pop ballad feel.  The group provides some gorgeous background harmonies to Shawn’s powerful lead vocal.  The lyric is a bit of a story feel not too unlike “End Of The Beginning.”  Shawn gets a chance to showcase his range toward the end of the song and nails this challenging song.  Again, it may be a little too progressive for SG radio, but it’s definitely radio quality.  9.5/10
  8. This Is How We Know – Kenna West, Lee Black, and Cliff Duren contributed this midtempo number that returns to a Praise and Worship feel that starts in unison before splitting into two parts for the last line of the verse then into four parts for the chorus.  Bridget Dill carries the melody line through the chorus.  Shawn takes the first line of the second verse, then LeeAnn comes in for the second line, and Bridget on the third.  There’s a nice section where Tim, Shawn, and LeeAnn sing some background parts with Bridget stepping out for some ad-lib melody.  That trend continues through the following chorus and key change.  This is another very solid song that gets your head nodding and foot tapping.  9/10
  9. Oh What A Beautiful City – This is a re-recording of one of the group’s more popular songs.  Written by Marcy Kelsey Beckett, this version is a half-step lower from the original recording by the group, which tends to give the song a bit of a fuller sound, without sacrificing much power.  Shawn, LeeAnn, and Tim take the first verse, then Shawn sings the second verse solo.  The trio from the first verse take the first chorus.  The key goes up a half step and Shawn takes the last verse.  Bridget joins for the chorus and takes the melody.  Other than the song being keyed a bit lower, it’s pretty similar otherwise to the original version.  Still a great song.  9/10
  10. The Lord’s Prayer – Matthew Holt arranged this version of the classic song, and it’s a fantastic arrangement.  The group starts off in unison until the word “Heaven” which splits into some beautiful 4 part harmony.  The group has done this song in concert before, but this is the first time they’ve recorded it.  The 3 and 4 part harmony on the song is simply shimmering, and it is easily the most complex vocal arrangement the group has put to record.  The ending is powerful and it’s a great conclusion to the CD.  10/10

Overall:  9  The past few CDs from The Dills have taken a bit of a scaled back approach, going back to their Hymns album from several years ago.    The last mainline CD, God Is In Control, was a bit of a step forward from that CD, but still scaled back from the likes of Uncommon or Story Of A Lifetime.  With Before The Rain, the group has taken a gigantic leap forward.  The group took more time in working on vocal arrangements, and the increased time and work has paid big dividends.  The Dills have a bit of a unique vocal lineup in that they have 4 voices, but not a true bass vocal.  They’ve worked hard on this CD to make sure that all 4 voices have a part, with quite a few spots of true 4 part harmony.  Other spots, Tim typically doubles the top line above him, most often that is Bridget.  However, one thing they have done in several spots is allowed the featured vocalist to step out from the background harmonies and take more of a solo approach with block harmonies behind the soloist.  Those spots, as well as the true 4 part spots, work out extremely well for the group, and give us a solid indication of the direction that the group is taking vocally.

I would have said prior to this release that Story Of A Lifetime was the group’s best project, but I think Before The Rain exceeds even that CD.  The primary reason is that the song selection here is very strong, with a consistent theme of real life messages in the lyrics that will meet listeners where they are in the daily lives.  I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the vocal arrangements, and they are definitely several notches above what the group has done previously, but more than just for complexity’s sake,  the arrangements have served to highlight already strong lyrics, and this is the first CD that firmly cements a unique sound for The Dills and begins to more fully realize the potential that the group possesses.  Much like Declaration by the Crist Family, this is the CD that will serve notice to the SG world that The Dills are ready to make some noise in the genre.  I think the group has found their musical direction.  Tim, Bridget, Shawn, LeeAnn, Matthew, and Donna, congratulations on a job very well done!

Review: Brian Free & Assurance – Nothing But Love

This is the follow up album to BFA’s acclaimed Never Walk Alone project.  As with the previous release, this project features Brian Free – Tenor, Bill Shivers – Lead, Derrick Selph – Baritone, and Jeremy Lile – Bass and was produced by Ricky Free.

Tracks:

  1. Nothing But Love – The album starts off with the title track, that is a mellow, bouncy, midtempo song with an infusion of what I’ll term muted brass.  While there’s heavy electric guitar, drums, piano, and organ, the brass almost gives the tune a Russ Taff era Imperials feel.  Brian Free takes the lead on this song that lyrically is a reminder of the forgiveness that exists for the child of God.  It’s a good solid start to the album.  8.5/10
  2. It’s Quite A Valley – Bill Shivers steps to the forefront on this flowing 6/8 tune that is more than just a little reminiscent of “If It Takes A Valley” from the It’s So God project.  Shivers is one of the most overlooked (and highest!) lead singers in the industry, but if I were starting a quartet from scratch, Bill Shivers would be the first lead singer I would call.  Another good, solid song with a message of encouragement that Shivers communicates very effectively.  8.5/10
  3. If The Lord Says Do It – This is a driving mid to up tempo song that features Jeremy Lile on the verses, with Shivers taking the lead on the choruses.  Lile has really grown into a fine bass vocalist during his time with Brian Free & Assurance.  As was once observed about George Younce, Lile is a singer first who happens to have a voice in the bass register.  He is a very good communicator when it comes to handling solos.   8/10
  4. I Will Be Praying – Another driving midtempo number, this a modern pop/country feel and features Bill Shivers.  It has a sound somewhat similar to “You Must Have Met Him” from Worth It.  I love the background harmony on the phrase “miracle for sure” in the second verse.  Shivers does a nice job with his solo “bridge” that is actually just a slightly slower solo rendition of the chorus.  I also like Jeremy Lile’s descending bass part on the tag.  This is another very slick sounding, radio ready tune.  To me, this is one of the strongest styles for the group.  9/10
  5. Guard Your Heart – This is a very contemporary sounding ballad that features Jeremy Lile on the first verse.  Aside from the fact that it is a bass solo on the verses, this song would sound at home on a 4Him or FFH CD.  The chorus has some really interesting chords and vocal parts, and .  Lile’s bass notes at the beginning of the chorus stand out, as they aren’t simply the root of the chord.  Shivers takes the second verse and does a fine job.  Lile drops his bass part an octave on the second chorus from where he was on the first one on the “Guard your heart” phrases.  One of the best ballad bridges I’ve heard in a long time follows the second chorus.  Love the lyric, love the arrangement.  After a couple solo lines from Shivers, they take the key up and invert the harmony up on several phrases leading to some incredibly high harmonies.  It’s amazing how high Free can still sing after roughly 30 years of full time singing.  I love this tune.  10/10
  6. There Is Power – Derrick Selph takes the lead on the verses of this mid to uptempo tune.  Shivers takes the melody on the chorus that features an interesting descending chord pattern.  This song begs for a chorus of “Power In The Blood”, and the chorus to that old hymn indeed finds itself here as a bridge.  It almost is a bit too cliche, but I also think the lyrics to both songs are so complementary that I’d have missed it more if it wasn’t there.  It does lead to a very odd key change leading to a high tag, not a typical half step.  Solid song.  7/10
  7. Calvary’s Cry – This is a power tenor ballad that Brian Free has made a staple of his musical diet over the course of his career.  It’s an interesting lyric, as the first verse talks of things that would cause Calvary pain, the cross piercing the hill, bearing the weight of the world’s sins, etc.  The chorus reveals Calvary’s “cry” to be an invitation to find salvation, not a cry of pain.  It’s a very well executed lyric, and Free knocks it out of the park.  No one can sing these ballads like Brian.  Moving, powerful, and a great vocal performance from Brian and the rest of the group.  There’s some incredible high harmony on this song.   10/10
  8. You Can Be A Bridge – After starting with the title of the song done acappella with some robotic effects applied, the song kicks in with a driving country arrangement with Bill Shivers featured on the verses.  The chorus features some high, smooth harmonies from the quartet.  Lyrically the song speaks of the importance of showing our walk with Christ in our words and actions.  It’s a good message that is performed well.  8/10
  9. I Want To Be That Man – This is another power tenor ballad that sounds like it came off of the Courageous movie soundtrack.  It’s the right message at a time when it is sorely needed, and is a bit in the forefront because of the aforementioned movie.  It’s a call for men to stand up and be the spiritual leaders in the home.  If the line “I’ll lead my family as I hold the Father’s hand” doesn’t fill your soul with conviction, you really need to check yourself.  It’s easily the most challenging and poignant message that the group has committed to record.  This has the potential to be an absolutely huge song for the group, the biggest since “For God So Loved”, and because of the closeness of the lyric to Courageous, I think Daywind should send this song to CCM radio as well.  It could easily fit on K-LOVE.  It’s a tremendous message that any male that calls himself a child of God needs to hear, regardless of music styles or genres.  10/10
  10. Revival – This is a neat mid to uptempo that features Derrick Selph on the verses and Bill Shivers on the chorus.  The verses are in a minor key, but changes to a major for the chorus.  It’s a catchy chorus that is sure to get your toes tapping.  The musical style may make you take this song as lightweight, but it’s a stronger lyric than what you expect to find, echoing the call in the book of Revelation for the church to return to its first love.  The tag actually ends the song and the album on a minor chord, which is very unusual, especially in this genre.  It lends a nice touch.  9/10

Overall:  9  While most reviewers have said this recording is good but not great, I’m going against the grain and going to agree with Brian Fuson’s opinion that this album exceeds the previous release, Never Walk Alone.  Brian Free has an absolute knack for picking songs with great messages and that play to the strengths of each of his various members.  With a parenthetical year or so where Selph came off the road and was replaced by Randy Crawford, this lineup has been pretty stable for the last 5 years or so, and they have really gelled together well.  I mentioned in the review Lile’s abilities to carry a solo vocal, but he really adds a solid foundation to the group harmonies.  He may not be the lowest bass singer around, but he has a nice tone and cut to his voice that makes it seem like he is singing lower than he really is.  Selph is a solid baritone, and has also improved in his time with the group.  His voice just fits the sound of the quartet like a glove.  Bill Shivers is worth his weight in gold.  You can’t say enough good things about him.  Brian Free has withstood the test of time, and is singing just as good as ever.  If you like quartet singing with a bit of an edgy sound, this is a CD you will not want to miss.  It’s a good collection of songs and full of fine performances, with a few fantastic cuts thrown in for good measure.  “I Want To Be That Man” may become for BFA what “There Rose A Lamb” was to Gold City, namely a second huge signature ballad.  Great job by all involved with the album!

Review: The Beach Boys – That’s Why God Made The Radio

Up to this point, all my in depth reviews have been on Southern Gospel albums, though I’ve occasionally mentioned other music, and even did a mini-review of a Brian Wilson album.  That streak ends here, though this is likely to be an aberration instead of the start of a trend.  My love for the Beach Boys is no secret on this blog, so if I were ever to make an exception to my SG only reviews, it should come as no surprise that it would be for the new album from the surviving Beach Boys, including Brian Wilson, on their 50th anniversary.  On this album are Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks, though Marks is credited solely with guitar work and no vocals, with long time Beach Boys and Brian Wilson sideman Jeffrey Foskett providing falsetto vocals.  Wilson produced the album, while Mike Love served as executive producer.

Tracks:

  1. Think About The Days – This is a wordless opening to the track composed by Brian Wilson and Joe Thomas featuring acappella vocals from The Beach Boys (plus Foskett) with some light piano and french horn added.  Hearkening back to the “Our Prayer” that was to open the Smile album before resurfacing on 20/20, it sets a touch of a melancholy mood for the album with its minor key, but the vocal harmonies are stunningly beautiful.  Even after 50 years, the group can still create effortless harmonies that shimmer. 9.5/10
  2. That’s Why God Made The Radio – The first new single from the Beach Boys in roughly 20 years also serves as the title track to the album.  Written by Brian Wilson, Jim Peterik, Larry Millas, and Joe Thomas, it is a midtempo tune with a bit of a doo-wop feel.  Wilson has the lead on the verses, with Al Jardine taking the last two lines of each verse with full on group harmonies on the chorus.  There’s a bridge that has a bit of a harder edge to start out with some incredible harmony on the phrase “a whole new generation” that is repeated leading to a tag that has the round like vocals that you find on classics like “California Girls” or “God Only Knows.”  It’s better than anyone realistically could have expected from the group, but the best is yet to come… 9/10
  3. Isn’t It Time – This is an infectious midtempo number that my 5 year old daughter has immediately latched on to as her favorite song.  Written by Wilson, Love, Peterik, Millas, and Thomas, it’s got a bouncy rhythm that is driven by a ukulele of all instruments, and features Brian Wilson on the first verse with some duet lines by either Al Jardine or Bruce Johnston, it’s a little hard to tell.  The chorus features Foskett, Johnston, and Jardine to my ears. There’s a nice little vocal lead in to the second verse, performed by Mike Love.  The bridge features Foskett and Love with some gorgeous background harmonies.  The chorus is repeated with Love taking the first two lines an octave down from where it had previously been sung.  I think this is probably the most radio friendly song on the disc.  It’s incredibly catchy and will have you singing along.  9.5/10
  4. Spring Vacation – This is a mid to uptempo pop tune written by Mike Love, Brian Wilson, and Joe Thomas.  Love takes the lead on the verse with Bruce Johnston taking a line or two from him.  Brian Wilson takes the melody on the chorus.  This song is a quintessential Beach Boys “fun in the sun” type song, and would be right behind “Isn’t It Time” as a radio ready song.  There’s a really nice chord progression in the verses.  The harmony on the bridge is outstanding.  When you think of The Beach Boys, this is the sound that comes to mind.  9/10
  5. The Private Life Of Bill And Sue – Written by Brian Wilson and Joe Thomas, this is a tropical flavored song that is a commentary on the reality TV phenomenon.  There’s more than a slight resemblance to “South American” from Wilson’s Imagination solo album.  Wilson has the melody through the entire song with some great harmony behind him on the chorus and some nice falsetto work from Jeffrey Foskett.  The radio narration at the end of the song is hilarious if you can catch it.  It’s a fun little song, but easily the weakest song on the disc.  6.5/10
  6. Shelter – Again from the pen of Wilson and Thomas, this is a midtempo ballad style song that again features Wilson’s vocals on the verses.  Jeffrey Foskett and Mike Love share the melody on the choruses.  This song is quite reminiscent of what you heard on Brian’s eponymous 1988 solo album, minus the 80s production.  Again, there are gorgeous backing harmonies throughout the song.  It’s a pretty solid song.  7.5/10
  7. Daybreak Over The Ocean – This Mike Love composition, according to what I’ve seen online, is an outtake from a never released Mike Love solo album.  The credits bear this out, as the primary vocalists are Mike, Christian, and Hayleigh Love along with Adrian Baker.  The other Beach Boys are credited with “Additional Vocals.”  This is a slower tropical flavored tune that seems to hearken back to the best elements of Love’s “Sumahama” from The Beach Boys’ L.A. (Light Album).  There are simply thrilling harmonies behind Love’s lead vocal, and this is one of Love’s best vocal performances in recent memory.  The “bring back” section has been compared elsewhere to the end section of the late 60s single “Breakaway”, and it’s a valid comparison.  I happen to like this song a lot, it has beautiful harmony.  8.5/10
  8. Beaches In Mind – The “fun in the sun” style returns on this song penned by Love, Wilson, and Thomas.  Brian Wilson takes the melody on the chorus, with Love taking the melody on the verses.  There are some really nice lead guitar licks that I’m guessing are provided by David Marks.  This is another solid Beach Boys-esque tune.  7.5/10
  9. Strange World – Written by Brian Wilson and Joe Thomas, this is another ballad style tune.  Wilson takes the lead on this song and turns in a really nice performance.  The “bum-bum” from the tympani adds a dramatic flair to the chorus.  This song is very hard to describe, but there are some really nice vocals and neat chords.  It’s a song that seems to build in intensity throughout.  That said, it is a really nice tune.  8.5/10
  10. From There To Back Again – From this point the forward, the album really shines.  The next three songs may be the best the Beach Boys have put to record since Pet Sounds.  Wilson and Thomas penned this tune, and for the first half or so of the song, Al Jardine performs what may be his best ever vocal as a Beach Boy.  His voice sounds just as strong and clear as it did in 1965.  The harmony behind Jardine’s vocals is absolutely glistening.  About halfway through, some of the Wilson composing magic rears it’s head, as there are pauses, tempo and rhythm changes that are on par with the experimentation he did in the Pet Sounds days.  Simply amazing.  10/10
  11. Pacific Coast Highway – Again from Wilson and Love, this is a short tune that starts with some beautiful acappella oohs from the group.  Brian takes the lead on the song, it’s a message of goodbye that is 1 minute 47 seconds of sheer beauty.  The full harmony on the final word “goodbye” is beautiful and poignant.  10/10
  12. Summer’s Gone – This song was written to be the last Beach Boys song ever recorded.  Composed by Brian Wilson, Joe Thomas, and Jon Bon Jovi (!), this is a beautiful, wistful ballad.  Wilson has the melody surounded by lush, thick harmonies from the rest of the group.  It’s a lyric of farewell with shimmering vibes and percussion.  It’s as gorgeous as anything Wilson has ever composed.  It concludes the album with a very melancholy feel, not totally unlike the way “Caroline, No” ended Pet Sounds.  It’s a fitting end to what very well may be the final Beach Boys album.  As you hear the sound of waves receding with light chimes as the song concludes, you can’t help but think that this is how The Beach Boys should bid farewell.  Wow.  10/10

Overall:  9.5  Maybe it’s just the fan in me.  Maybe it’s because of the sheer vastness of the amount of time since The Beach Boys recorded a new studio album, much less one with an engaged and in control Brian Wilson.  Whatever the reason, I really love this album.  Is it perfect?  No.  “Bill and Sue” is pretty much a throwaway, filler track.  “Shelter” is OK, but not great.  I’d have liked to have heard more from Johnston (who is almost invisible outside of the harmony stack on the album), Marks, and Jardine.  The album from the title track to “Strange World” is a bit of a mix of mostly good songs, with a few really good ones mixed in.  However, the final three tracks on this album rate with some of the best music The Beach Boys have ever put to record.

While they may not have a sure-fire radio hit on the album (though I think there are some good contenders, especially with what you hear on secular radio today!), the album already debuted at #3 on the Billboard charts, and is far above what any realistic fan of the group should have expected from them.  The lead vocals are all well done, the instrumental tracks are great, the vocal harmonies are still without par, and it’s a great way for The Beach Boys to celebrate their 50th anniversary and ride off into the Southern California sunset.  If you like harmony, and like pop music, do yourself a favor and pick up a piece of history in this monumental album.  You’ll be glad you did.

Review: Nelons – Come On Home

This is the newest release from the Nelons.  Produced by Jason Clark and Bill Gaither, the CD features vocals from Amber Thompson, Kelly Nelon Clark, and Jason Clark, with a guest appearance on the first track by Gaither.

Tracks:

  1. I Have Seen The Children – This is a mid tempo tune by Gloria Gaither and Paul Overstreet that features Amber Thompson.  It is fairly acoustic driven, though there are strings behind a prominent banjo.  After the first verse and chorus, Bill Gaither makes an appearance on the first part of the second verse.  The trio finish the verse and then are joined by Gaither’s bass vocals on the last verse and throughout the last chorus.  While Bill is no Rex Nelon, it is nice to hear the current Nelons lineup with a bass vocal present.  It’s a solid tune.  8/10
  2. Come On Home – This is a classic Bill and Gloria Gaither tune that is given an acoustic ballad treatment and again features Amber Thompson.  There’s some really pretty harmony, and it’s a bit unusual in that Kelly Clark sings the harmony part above Amber’s melody throughout the song.  It’s a beautiful song with smooth harmonies. 9/10
  3. Come To The River – Written by Suzanne Jennings and Woody Wright, this is probably the most uptempo song on the project, but it is nowhere near barn burner territory.  It is, however, one of the best cuts on the CD.  It is again acoustic instrument driven (this will become a recurring theme in this review, trust me).  Amber, Kelly, and Jason share solo lines on the first three lines of the first verse before joining together to finish the verse out and head in to the chorus.  Kelly has some nice moving harmony parts at the end of the chorus.  The same pattern is repeated for the second verse.  I like the track to this song, the “river” theme of the song is enhanced by percussion that is reminiscent of the puffing of a steamboat, not totally unlike what Brian Wilson did in secular music with his solo suite “Rio Grande.”  9.5/10
  4. Somebody’s Praying – This classic by John C. Elliott starts with fiddle before acoustic guitars take over the track and Kelly Clark lends her smooth, tender alto vocals to the song.  After the first verse by Kelly, Amber and Jason lend their harmonies to the rest of the song.  It’s a very smooth, pretty version of the song. 8/10
  5. Down To The River – Delivered completely acappella, Amber Thompson starts off this tune solo, then Kelly Clark joins halfway through the first verse.  Amber and Jason Clark take the second verse as a duet, then the third time through Kelly rejoins to complete the harmony.  It’s a neat way to do the song and give the listener a lesson in how the group’s harmonies are constructed. 8/10
  6. The Diff’rence Is In Me – Written in 1979 by Bill and Gloria Gaither, this mid tempo tune has a bit of a shuffle feel to it, and features Amber Thompson, with Jason and Kelly providing backing harmonies.  Amber is very quickly becoming one of the most commanding female vocalists in this genre, and this song gives her an opportunity to shine.  She doesn’t disappoint. 9/10
  7. Excuse Me, Are You Jesus – One of the few truly new songs this CD, this acoustic ballad was written by Bill Gaither, Gloria Gaither, and Larry Gatlin.  It’s a story song about a man rushing through an airport that crashes into an apple stand that was run by a blind girl.  He misses his flight by taking the time to help the girl put her apple stand back together and gives her some money to pay for the ruined apples.  She asks him, “Excuse me, are you Jesus?”  It’s a terrific lyric that Jason Clark sings very well.  This is another highlight of the recording.  9/10
  8. Handful Of Dust – Written by Anthony Arata, this is a mid to uptempo tune that has a bit of a driving acoustic country feel.  Kelly Clark takes the melody on this song and turns in a nice performace.  The group blend on the chorus is especially smooth.  I like the sound of the group with Kelly on the melody with Amber above her and Jason below.  The tag is nice, as it starts with some stratospherically high “oohs” that gently make their way back to earth.  8/10
  9. Morning Has Broken – Elanor Farjean’s timeless classic is performed expertly by Amber Thompson.  This is some of the highest singing I’ve heard from Amber, and she delivers the high notes sweetly and effortlessly.  Amber has the first verse and a half solo, before her mother joins her for some duet lines on the second verse.  The same thing is repeated on the third verse.  The first verse is repeated with Jason joining in to create some beautiful trio harmony.  8.5/10
  10. When He Talked About His Home – Originally recorded by the Gaither Vocal Band, this Bill Gaither, Gloria Gaither, and Woody Wright penned ballad is performed by Jason Clark here.  Jason does a nice job on the story telling lyric that Guy Penrod carried so well on the GVB version.  It’s a solid rendition of the song, but I prefer the GVB version.  7.5/10
  11. The Sun’s Coming Up – Dee Gaskins classic, which was one of the Nelons’ first big chart hits, finds itself re-recorded here.  The arrangement is a bit more mountain influenced than the pure country sound of the original, but the vocal arrangement is almost the exact same as the original, except the tag doesn’t climb like the original version did.  It’s interesting hearing the current lineup of the group tackle this Nelons classic track.  I almost with Bill Gaither had added his bass vocals to this track as well.  As it is, it’s excellent.  9/10
  12. I Choose The Lord – Written by Micah Henson, this is another mid tempo acoustic tune that has a bit of a driving feel again.  Jason Clark takes the lead on this song and does a fine job.  At the end of the chorus, there’s a repeat of the phrase “and to beat it all” by Amber that when I hear it makes me pine for a solid bass vocal like a Tim Riley or Richard Sterban.  It’s a solid song.  8/10
  13. I Heard It First On The Radio – This is another cover of a Bill and Gloria Gaither penned tune that was previously recorded by the Gaither Vocal Band.  It’s a credible rendition that features Amber with a smooth lead vocal.  Jason Clark takes the melody for a while toward the end of the song before Amber reclaims it.  To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of this song when the GVB recorded it.  Still not a huge fan.  The performance is fine, the harmony is smooth, and Amber does a fine job on her lead vocal.  In fact, I may even prefer this version to the GVB, but I’ve just always been neutral on the song.  7/10
  14. Jesus, I Just Wanna Say I’m Sorry – Jason Clark contributed this song.  It’s an acoustic guitar driven ballad that again features Amber Thompson.  It’s a pretty tune that Amber deftly weaves her way through, with nice lyrics that paint a poignant picture of our journey with Christ and a plea for forgiveness of our failures.  This is another real highlight of the disc.  It’s a testament that Amber can take a lyric that lends itself toward an older, more experienced believer and convey the message so convincingly.  Great song.  9/10
  15. The Little Brown Church – The album closes on this mid tempo Jason Clark penned tune.  Jason takes the melody on this song that hearkens back to the lyric of “Church In The Wildwood” in several spots.  There’s a nice smooth blend on this mountain flavored track.  It’s a well executed end to the album.  7.5/10

Overall: 8  Readers of my generation who also listened to secular music may remember when the television station MTV actually played music and had a show called “Unplugged” that featured stars of the day on a sound stage with (mostly) acoustic instruments.  This album is “The Nelons Unplugged.”  Nearly all of the instrumentation is acoustic, and the entire recording has a mellow, mountain flavor to it.  There are spots in this recording that remind of you of The Isaacs in style.  That isn’t a bad thing.  I could have stood some more upbeat tracks, but this album has a “concept album” type feel, and it succeeds very well in staying true to that concept.

Amber Thompson is very much in the forefront on this album, and her performances leave no doubt that she deserves the spotlight.  She is already one of the top young vocalists in SG today.  Kelly’s vocals are impeccable on this album, with her work on “Somebody’s Praying” keeping the song from the ranks of “ANOTHER version of this song?” territory, and hearing her sing “The Sun’s Coming Up” again is a special treat.  The acoustic, mountain flavor of the album really plays to Jason Clark’s vocal strengths, he does very well in this style.

Does this album measure up against their previous release, Beside Still Waters?  Not really, but then again, I don’t think that was the idea behind this project.  Come On Home is a chance for the Nelons to scale back the arrangements, and really let listeners become acquainted with each of the vocalists that make up the current configuration of the group.  It does this exceedingly well.  While there probably isn’t a chart topping single on the CD (though “Come To The River” or “Jesus, I Wanna Say I’m Sorry” would likely do well as radio songs), what this CD does give you is a pleasant, easy listen that can soothe a troubled mind.  This would make a great CD to pop in when life seems to be spinning out of control, as it works well to soothe and calm the listener.  If you’ve not heard the current version of the Nelons, pick a copy of this album up, as with 15 tracks it is a great way to immerse yourself in the current version of The Nelons.  Great job by all involved!

Review: Ernie Haase & Signature Sound – Here We Are Again

This is the first CD of primarily new material for EHSS since Devin McGlamery and Ian Owens joined.  To call this a highly anticipated release would be a bit of an understatement, so let’s just get to the tracks.

Tracks:

  1. Swing Low Sweet Chariot – The track starts with the sound of a movie projecter and and old-timey piano, before the song kicks off with a chorus from the quartet.  The retro feel continues throughout the song with the background “ba-ba-ba-ba-da-da” vocals behind the lead vocal on the verse.  After the first verse, there’s a “Dixieland” style vamp section before Ian Owens sings another verse.  The key changes and Ernie Haase takes the lead on the chorus.  This is a fun, light hearted tune that probably goes over well in concert.  8/10
  2. Singing In The Midnight Hour – Doug Anderson is to Ernie Haase what Bill Shivers is to Brian Free: worth every penny he is paid and then some.  This a very bluesy tune that really shows Anderson’s strength as a vocalist.  He’s got just the right soul to really pull this song off.  It’s a great tune and one of the best cuts on the album.  10/10
  3. Here We Are Again – This is a flowing, mid-tempo song with a little country flavor.  This song actually sounds like something you’d have heard from the Cathedrals in the early to mid 90s.  Ian Owens sings the first verse as a solo and does a magnificent job.  After a group vocal on the chorus, Ernie Haase sings the second verse leading into a key change before the chorus.  The chorus is then reprised with the harmonies inverted up.  This song shows that if you strip away all the showiness and cheesiness from the group, these guys can really sing.  Another great cut here.  9.5/10
  4. I Believe – This is Ian Owens’ signature song, beginning with his days in the Imperials.  As this is his first mainline release with Signature Sound, this is a great opportunity to showcase his abilities with a song that he is familiar and comfortable singing.  It’s a solid rendition and a nice arrangement.  7.5/10
  5. I’ve Been Here Before – Devin McGlamery gets his first mainline feature on this song.  It’s a mid-tempo song in 6/8 time with a bit of a soul/pop feel to it.  There are some really nice chord progressions in the verse, and a nice arrangement in the chorus.  McGlamery really does well with this sound, it really fits him well.  After the second verse, there’s a neat transition to a new key with Ernie Haase taking the melody.  Another strong song from the guys.  9/10
  6. You Are Welcome Here – Wayne Haun steps up to the plate with this song.  It has a bit of a pop ballad feel.  It’s a challenging lyric about the church fulfilling it’s purpose as the place for the hurt and downtrodden to find healing and restoration in Christ.  It hearkens back to the words of Christ that the healthy don’t need a doctor, the sick do.  There’s some nice background harmonies to Haun’s lead vocal in the chorus.  I really like this song.  9/10
  7. Love Carried The Cross – This is the lone power ballad on the album, and it’s a great one. Doug Anderson sings the first verse and carries the melody through the chorus, and does a fine job on it.  After the chorus , the key changes and Devin McGlamery sings the second verse.  Ernie Haase follows with the third verse leading to another chorus.  Much like “Here We Are Again”, this song strips away the show and allows the group’s vocals to shine.  As others have said, this is much like a power ballad you’d have heard from the Cathedrals during Haase’s tenure with the group.  9.5/10
  8. Stand By Me – This was the first song that the group really pushed hard when they organized, and Tim Duncan’s rendition became a standard for the group.  I get that.  Ian Owens is given the song to reprise here.  While the original was a great arrangement that went over well, this one is given an “over the top” treatment that just doesn’t do much for me.  I much prefer the original version.  I can see that it’s probably a fun performance in concert, but to me it doesn’t translate well in the studio.   4/10
  9. Everytime – This is a big risk.  No, this is a HUGE risk.  Let me first go on record as saying I LIKE the arrangement, the overall style of this song.  It’s different, it’s Motown/Soul meets Southern Gospel.  It sounds like something  off of the Blues Brothers.  Lyrically it’s a nice message of encouragement.  Ernie Haase takes the lead on this song.  The backing harmonies from the rest of the guys on the chorus are very well done.  Where this song falls a bit short is similar to “Stand By Me.”  It’s performed in a way that is probably great fun in a concert setting with people clapping and smiling, but on a studio CD it comes across as a little too much, almost sounding self-indulgent.  I get what Ernie was trying for here, and I’m sure it succeeds in concert (I’d LOVE to see/hear it), but not so much on a studio CD.  Maybe he should have saved this one for a live concert CD.  6/10
  10. Sometimes I Wonder – After a couple of misses, the album goes back to the hit side with this flowing acoustic flavored song sung beautifully by Doug Anderson.  This song talks about losing a loved one, and wondering what life is like in Heaven.  One the second verse, there’s some beautiful close harmonies that join with Anderson.  Those harmonies continue on the chorus.  This is my favorite song on the disc.  The vocal arrangement is outstanding, the performance by Anderson is flawless and it is exactly what the disc needed.  10/10
  11. Thankful – This is a soft ballad that is quite reminiscent of the song “We Are So Blessed” both musically and lyrically.  Ernie Haase has the melody on this track and it’s a very well performed song that has a bit of an understated arrangement that accentuates the message of the song very well.  It’s just a very pretty song that is well done.  8/10
  12. Any Other Man – In 1977, the Imperials released their album Sail On, which was the first to feature Russ Taff and David Will.  While the group had blurred the lines of Southern and Contemporary up to that point, the first track of the Sail On album was a rocking, electric guitar driven tune called “Water Grave” that was certainly a shock to fans of the group that had followed them since their days as a Southern Gospel quartet.  “Any Other Man” produces the same type of initial reaction.  Recorded live in Romania, this song is a total 180 from the quiet reflectiveness of “Thankful.”  It features electric guitars, heavy percussion, and I can detect a bit of a rock organ as well.  Devin McGlamery and Doug Anderson take the first verse, then Ian Owens and Ernie Haase take the second verse.  McGlamery, Anderson, and Haase take the third verse.  Haase takes the final verse.  There have been comparisons to Third Day, and that’s not too far off.  It’s definitely more of a rock type sound.  It’s “Water Grave”, Part 2.  And for the record, I loved Part 1, and I love Part 2 as well.  This song has prompted a lot of discussion to this point, and I don’t see that subsiding any time soon.  Count me in the “love it” group.  10/10

Overall:  8.5  As I have been listening to this album, I’ve had several other bloggers ask me my thoughts on it.  My response hasn’t really changed much with repeated listens.  When this album is good, it is REALLY  good.  When it’s not, it falls flat.  There really isn’t much middle ground here.  You can probably see in my individual song ratings that there really aren’t a lot of “middle ground” type ratings.  Fortunately, there’s a lot more of the “really good” on this album than the “falls flat.”  Doug Anderson and Devin McGlamery in particular really get some chances to shine on this album.  “Sometimes I Wonder”, “Here We Are Again”, “I’ve Been Here Before”, and “Singing In The Midnight Hour” are fantastic songs.  “Any Other Man” could be a defining point not only in the group’s career, but in the SG genre as a whole.  There are moments on this album that are magnificent.   When this album does fall, it isn’t for bad singing, or missed notes, or anything like that.  It’s fairly obvious that the main focus of Ernie Haase and Signature Sound is their live performances.  They are focused on providing concert goers with an uplifting, entertaining evening with songs that have messages pointing toward their Savior.  As a result, sometimes songs and arrangements that come across well in concert, especially songs that are meant to be more lighthearted and fun, don’t necessarily translate well to the studio.  I made this point in a conversation with another blogger, and I still think it’s a valid one:  when you go all out in the studio, like Ernie did with “Everytime”, what is there left to bring to the live performance of the song?  My personal preference would be to tone it down just a little on the studio version, then “go crazy” with it live.  By doing so, you bring that extra “oomph” to the live concert experience.

So overall, I think this is a fine CD with a lot of great performances, but with a couple that are probably skip worthy.  Again, both of those probably come across great in a live performance, but just don’t really translate well to CD.  Still, Ernie and the guys, including pianist and producer Wayne Haun, are definitely not afraid to take risks and try something new, and that in and of itself is much to their credit.  Nice job, guys.

Review: Crist Family – Timeless: A Christmas Collection

Recorded over a period covering a couple of years, this is the Crist Family’s first Christmas project, and it is the first project released since Tom Joyce departed as bass vocalist.  The vocals on this album are by Jackie Crist, Tami Crist Starkel, Breana Crist, Lisa Crist, Rich Crist, and John Starkel.  An unique aspect to this project is that the group’s own Lisa Crist created the cover art, and it reflects the title of the collection very well.  Timeless has gotten some particularly notable nods from Gerald Wolfe and Mark Trammell.

Tracks:

  1. Love Me Some Snow – The album opens with a medley of sorts that includes part of a song many listeners will recognize immediately as the song from the “train scene” in the movie White Christmas.  Right off the bat, the Crist Family establishes that this album is going to be a retro, jazzy listen, and they weave through the big band harmonies of this song expertly.  9/10
  2. Christmas Time Is Here – From the beloved TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, comes this beautiful piece.  This is is given a shimmering acappella that wraps you up in thick blankets of harmonies.  Lisa Crist has a few solo lines with swirling harmonies behind her.  It’s sheer beauty in a two and a half minute song.  Wow.  10/10
  3. Christmas Waltz – This Christmas classic popularized by the Carpenters finds a home here in a nice performance by Tami Crist Starkel.  A classic waltz orchestration fits neatly behind Tami’s vocal.  It really sounds like it came straight from the classic era of the 40s and 50s, which in this case is a very good thing.  After a instrumental interlude, the Crist Family’s vocals come in with the big band era harmonies that are so prevalent on this recording.  9/10
  4. I Love Those Jingle Bells  – This was likely one of the first songs recorded for this album, as it was made available as a free download promo for the group a year or so ago.  There’s a nice male trio at the beginning, as well as female only harmonies.  The chorus features thick jazz harmonies.  It’s instantly Christmas time when this comes on.  9.5/10
  5. Jesu Parvule – The heavy jazz/big band style takes a backseat to a gorgeous classical piece that is performed acappella.  This sounds like something you would hear at a Christmas concert by a university choir, and that is absolutely meant to be a compliment.  This song shows that the Crist Family are well trained and very capable vocalists.  10/10
  6. Pine Cones And Holly Berries – This is another of the earlier cuts, as Crossroads had a free Christmas album download promo last year that included this track.  It’s a fun little song that includes snippets of other Christmas songs woven into the main theme.  Again the thick, lush harmonies highlight this track.  9/10
  7. I’ll Be Home For Christmas – This track is a bit of a mix of Carpenters-style vocals, along with the solo piano work of producer Jeff Collins.  Collins is definitely one of our most unsung pianists.  Look on a lot of Crossroads albums and you’ll find his name with a piano credit by it.  The vocals are lush and very well done, and Collins’ piano playing highlights a very good cut of this song.  9.5/10
  8. In The Bleak Midwinter – This song returns to a more classical approach.  These more classical moments break up what could be an overwhelmingly heavy amount of thick modern harmony and lighten the overall sound of the CD.  They are both done very well, and really showcase the fine vocals of the group.   10/10
  9. What Child Is This – I love the eerie string intro with a few brass accents toward the end.  An acoustic guitar enters and the song takes on a bit of a folk feel for the first verse, before becoming a bit more of a straight forward gospel ballad feel for the first chorus.  This is probably the closest to a traditional Southern Gospel arrangement that you will find on the album.  There are some nice surprises in the chord progression toward the end of the song, and the high ladies harmony on the line “The virgin sings her lullaby” is nice as well.  It is very well done.  8.5/10
  10. What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve – A breathtaking couple of acappella lines of “Auld Lang Syne” lead into a smooth jazzy rendition of Frank Loesser’s 1947 classic romantic Christmas tune.  You’re absolutely drowning in jazz harmonies and it’s a masterful performance by the entire ensemble.  Again I have to hearken back to the multi-layered harmonies of the Carpenters.  This is one of my favorite vocal performances on a CD that is full of great ones.  10/10
  11. Silent Night – This Christmas classic carol is performed in a style that has become a Crist Family trademark with a melody that is wrapped in tight, full harmonies.  It was this type of vocal arrangement and performance that drew me to the group in the first place, and this is no exception to the rule.  It’s a great arrangement and great performance.  9.5/10
  12. Winter Wonderland Medley – The album concludes with this medley that was another cut that was previously available as a special download from Crossroads.  The song that gives the medley its title is first and is done with some nice girls vs. guys sections.  Sleigh Ride comes up next with the full jazz chording in the vocals.  White Christmas is next up with a nice vocal passage to change keys to get there.  I know I sound like a broken record here, but the harmonies are just impeccable all throughout the medley.  They finish with a bit of a reprise of the opening to the medley.  9/10

Overall:  9.5  This album had a very definite vision.  The Crist Family, along with producer Jeff Collins, wanted to create a Christmas album that hearkened back to the classic sound of Christmas music of years past.  They wanted this album to remind listeners of the classics from people like Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, the Carpenters, and other classic artists that are associated with the Christmas holiday season.  There are secular and sacred tunes present, and they all come together to create one of the best Christmas albums I’ve heard in a while.

Jeff Collins needs special mention here, as he wore several hats for this album, contributing as co-producer and arranger alongside Rich Crist, but also contributed his piano skills, and also his bass vocal talent as well.  When Tom Joyce left the group earlier this year, the group removed his vocals from the project, and for the acappella pieces, Collins lent his vocals to fill in the bass part.

From a pure vocal standpoint, the Crist Family has been one of my favorite groups for several years now.  They have always included some adventurous vocal arrangements on their projects, but with this one, they have raised the bar.  There are no simple vocal arrangements at all on this album.  Literally every song on the project contains full, complex and thick vocal harmonies, which makes Timeless all the more impressive.  I’ll echo what DBM said in his review and state my hope that this level of vocal complexity continues on the group’s subsequent albums.  If you are a fan of the classic era of Christmas music, you absolutely need to add this album to your collection.  In this reviewer’s opinion, Timeless lives up to it’s name and vision very well.  Great job!

Review: The Kingsmen – Grace Says

This is the latest release from the Kingsmen, and the first to feature Randy Crawford in the baritone slot.  Other personnel are Harold Reed, Bryan Hutson, Ray Reese, Cody McVey, and Brandon Reese. For this review, we’re going to do something a little different.  My co-contributer Nate and I are going to do a joint review for the first (but hopefully not last) time.

Tracks:

  1. Back To Grace
    Nate: Nice lead by Randy Crawford to reintroduce him as a member of the Kingsmen.  This song has a nice country feel. Reminds me of something Mid South would have done in the early 90s. Good way to start off the album.

    Wes:  The project starts with a mid to uptempo country flavored tune.  Randy Crawford takes the lead, and I agree with Nate, it’s a nice way to bring him back into the Kingsmen fold and reintroduce him to fans.  This has a pretty modern country feel to it, a bit different from the typical Kingsmen sound.  The vocal blend is nice and smooth and there are a couple of nice chord progressions thrown in from time to time.  It’s a nice solid start to the disc.

  2. Oh What A Hallelujah Day
    Nate: Fun convention style song. I really like how the first chorus starts with just piano accompaniment. Even when the drums and bass join in, the instrumentation is still basic, putting most of the focus on the vocalists. I also like how all 4 singers trade off on the melody. This takes me back to their recording “The Old Time Way” from 1998.

    Wes:  I think I might have chosen this as the first single.  It’s a great archetypal Kingsmen song that features some nice vocals.  I love the piano only chorus at the beginning, and the basic understated track for the rest of the track.  All the vocals get a solo line at some point, and Crawford sounds a bit like he’s channeling Parker Jonathan at times.  It’s a really fun song that probably goes over well live.  I love the 6th chord on the end.

  3. I Knew It Was Him
    Nate: When the musical intro for the song started, I predicted hearing Bryan Hutson’s voice coming in but was surprised when it was actually Harold Reed. I’ve enjoyed Reed’s solo lines since his days with the Dixie Melody Boys. He has a big range and had a very pleasant sound in the medium zone and it’s nice to hear that being displayed in this song. He carries verse 1, chorus 1, verse 2, and verse 3 by himself until the rest of the group comes in on chorus 2 for a nice buildup at the 2:32 mark of the 4:25 song. A bridge to the 3rd chorus ends the song. I can see this going over well in a live setting. I’m probably being nit picky but I could have done without the final band bumps at the 4:17-4:19 mark. Seemed unnecessary to me in listening to the recording anyway. I’m sure it will go over better in a live setting where at that point in the song it would be covered by applause and maybe babies being tossed from the balcony.

    Wes:  Harold Reed is starting to make a bit of a reputation for strong tenor ballads with the Kingsmen, starting with “God Saw A Cross” and continuing with this strong flowing ballad.  There are some nice chord progressions in the chorus, and Reed shows off his smoothness in his lower registers on the verses.  The song is a solo until the second chorus.  There’s a couple of key changes before that point, and actually three verses.  This song should go over well in concert.
  4. That’s All I Need
    Nate: Nice country flavored song featuring Bryan Hutson. Glad they didn’t go with the predictable “key change to a tenor lead” treatment that most songs of this tempo receive. There is some nice timing and movement in the choruses by all of the vocalists making for a tight sounding group. For the first recording from these personnel, they seem to have gelled quickly.

    Wes: This is the first single from the project, and it’s a very solid uptempo tune that features a country flavor.  This is a pretty typical Kingsmen song, and Bryan Hutson shines on the lead line.  There’s a bit of an odd pause on the last line of the chorus, but that’s a really minor quibble.  Unless I miss my guess, this will probably have some staying power in their set list.  It’s a good showcase of the current lineup.

  5. Grace Says
    Nate: I was hoping for a smooth ballad featuring Randy Crawford, similar to what he would have done in his first tenure with Brian Free & Assurance, and this would be it. I wish Harold Reed was a little smoother in the choruses but that’s the only negative I can think of in this song, and it’s a very minor one. The message is beautiful. This is a song I am planning on singing at my church when the soundtrack becomes available.

    Wes: Randy Crawford steps up to sing this ballad that has a bit of an inspirational type of feel.  Crawford has done well on this type of song, even going back to his BFA days.  He and Hutson have similar style voices that really sound good together, and this song typifies that quality.  It’s a really great lyric and a smooth sounding vocal performance.  I really like this song.

  6. Ordinary Man
    Nate:  Hutson gets this song, which sounds very much like something 4Him would have done. A departure from the sound The Kingsmen have been known for over the decades but goes well with the direction they have taken in the past few years since 2008’s When God Ran. I love this message. It would be perfect for a Men’s retreat, Ordination service, etc.

    Wes: “When God Ran” was a major step outside the typical Kingsmen box, however, it was a musical risk that paid off as the song has been huge for the group.  The group has taken another musical risk of a similar magnitude with this song.  It’s a blend of Brian Free & Assurance and 4Him.  Bryan Hutson has the lead and just as he did on WGR, he turns in a spectacular performance.  It’s a big risk, but to this reviewer, it works and is easily a highlight of the recording.

  7. I Can Hardly Wait
    Nate:  If you were looking for the classic uptempo Kingsmen sound, here is it. I can easily picture the lineup of Chris Collins, Tim Surrett, and Parker Jonathan singing this song alongside Ray Reese in the mid 90s.

    Wes: This is smart.  You’ve stepped way outside the box with “Ordinary Man”, so now you follow it up with a classic “three chords and a cloud of dust” Kingsmen style tune.  It’s a good way to remind the listeners that this is still the Kingsmen that they know and love.  Nate is right, it’s right up the alley of the Collins/Surrett/Jonathan/Reese era.  It could easily fit alongside of “Ridin’ High.”  This will be a huge concert hit.

  8. If Not For The Love Of Christ
    Nate:  Looks like they are doing a good job of keeping the features even between Crawford and Hutson. They share the lead duties on this cut. Randy covers verses 1 and 2, Bryan does a nice job on verse 3.

    Wes: Previously done by the Oak Ridge Boys on their From The Heart project, the Kingsmen version is fairly similar to the Oaks, but given a little faster tempo.  This could be considered a sacrilege as much as I like the Oaks, I actually prefer this version.
  9. After The Sunrise
    Nate:  Speaking of the classic Kingsmen sound! I can really picture Jim Hamill belting this from the stage. Ray Reese is featured in sections of the chorus which up to this point in the album is the most he has been heard. This song is complete with a false ending into an encore with a high tenor and low sliding bass ending. This is a song I can picture the tenor taking the ending even higher in concert. Steel guitar fans will love this track.

    Wes: Once again the classic Kingsmen sound finds a place on this album.  This vocal lineup is similar to the Martin/Hutson/Jonathan/Reese lineup in that you get the energy of the classic Kinsgmen but with stellar, precise vocals.  Make no mistake about it, these guys can really sing!  This is another highlight of the CD.  This will be the song that gets the audience on their feet and babies thrown in the air.  Typical Kingsmen, and that’s a good thing!

  10. Loving Shepherd, Gracious God
    Nate:  Nice smooth song that could pass for an old hymn. Ray finally gets a verse to himself. Typically when I think of bass singers that can carry a nice smooth solo, Reese doesn’t come to mind, but he does a fantastic job on this song.

    Wes: This is a very pretty acoustic driven song.  As many reviewers have stated, Reese’s vocal on the second verse is very moving.  It’s a short verse, but it definitely packs a punch.  Paired with the acappella break toward the end that is incredibly smooth, this is a great song.  It doesn’t have a high ending, it doesn’t build to a dramatic climax, but it’s a moving song that allows a smooth vocal performance to accentuate a very pretty lyric.

Summaries/Rating

Nate:  9.  The first thing I noticed about the cover was how far Cody McVey was standing from the rest of the group and I thought “he could be cropped out pretty easily if he left the group.”  Looks like I called that one!  With the exception of Good, Good God this is the first Kingsmen CD I have heard in its entirety since their days as the Carolina Boys.  I was a big fan of Phillip Hughes with the Anchormen and The Melody Masters Quartet but never thought he blended well with The Kingsmen.  I think this is probably the smoothest sounding top 3 vocal positions they have had in the group since the Martin, Hutson, and Jonathan days.  I feel the baritone and lead duties are being shared very fairly between Hutson and Crawford.  I was curious as to how it would be handled since both men are very capable of carrying the solo duties in their own right.  I personally enjoy a wide variety of music so the range of styles represented in this project was well received on my part.  This CD has me already looking forward to the next release and will make me want to get everything they put out like I did from 1992-2002.  I hope this combination sticks together for a long time.

Wes:  9When God Ran was a turning point in the Kingsmen’s career.  While their followup project, Missing People, was a good recording, I don’t think it equaled its predecessor.  This project does.  In fact, in some ways, this may even be a superior project.  I personally prefer the vocal sound with Crawford to the sound with Hughes.  While there are some stylistic risks on this project, most notably “Ordinary Man”, it’s not too much different than what you used to hear when Randy Miller was in the group.  The difference being at that time, the group experimented with a more soulful sound to give Randy a chance to sing and shine.  These days, it seems to be more of a Inspo/Contemporary lean.  What is mildly surprising to the average SG fan is that this group of Kingsmen can pull that sound off quite well.  Bryan Hutson and Randy Crawford have a good sound together and I expect them to develop the same kind of chemistry that Joseph Habedank and Bryan Walker have developed with the Perrys.  Harold Reed does a fine job as the Kingsmen tenor, especially with the new musical direction, and Ray Reese continues to solidly hold down the bottom end.  “Loving Shepherd, Gracious God” may be one of the most poignant vocals he’s ever put to record.  This is an excellent CD and a big step forward for the Kingsmen.

Review: Collingsworth Family – Part Of The Family

This is the latest release from the Collingsworth Family, and is their first recording on Wayne Haun and Ernie Haase’s StowTown Records.  Personnel are Phil Collingsworth, Sr., Kim Collingsworth, Brooklyn Collingsworth Blair, Courtney Collingsworth Metz, Phil Collingsworth, Jr., and Olivia Collingsworth.

Tracks:

  1. God’s Family – Written in 1975 by Lanny Wolfe, this classic is given a fresh treatment by the group.  The song is a flowing 6/8 meter and features full group harmonies throughout.  Like the Crist Family, the Collingsworth Family tends to use a lot of complex harmonies and this song really lets those harmonies shine.  Some are so fleeting and passing that you may not catch them on first listen, but the next time through it will jump out at you.  It’s a good, solid start to the disc.  8.5/10
  2. Tell The Mountain – Contributed by Lee Black, Sue C. Smith, and Kenna West, we stay in a 6/8 meter but a much more country influenced style.  Phil Jr. takes the lead on the verses and really shines on this song.  It’s a nice lyric that encourages a listener that is facing various trials.  Others have compared Phil’s vocal on this song to Doug Anderson of EHSS, and it’s a valid comparison.  This would make a great radio release.  9/10
  3. Joy Unspeakable – Wayne Haun and Caleb Collins wrote this uptempo song.  It’s got just a hint of a soul style, with some nice piano playing in the track.  There’s a nice key change and a broadening to a straighter rhythm that leads to a tag with another key change.  It’s a solid song.  8/10
  4. Jesus Is All I Need – The first ballad on the CD was penned by Marty Millikin, and right off the bat we’re treated to a new configuration for the group: a trio of Phil Sr., Phil Jr., and Kim.  It’s a nice sound with an inspirational style ballad.  Kim sings the verses as a solo, and turns in a fine performance.  Lyrically the message is in a similar vein to “Tell The Mountain” in its encouragement.  At the bridge, the rest of the family enters with Brooklyn taking the lead on a chorus of “He’s All I Need” that has some nice harmonic twists to it.  There’s a nice softer tag to the song.  Very pretty.  9/10
  5. Nothing’s Worrying Me – Marty Funderburk and Jerry Kelso contribute the first major highlight of the recording.  This is a midtempo, bluesy/jazz number that features Brooklyn in what is her finest vocal performance to date.  The chorus features thrilling background harmonies from her siblings.  Musically this song would feel right at home on a Katherine McPhee album or on American Idol, and that’s the feel that Brooklyn gives it.  She turns in a confident performance with just a hint of “attitude” that sells the song extremely well.  A great lyric, awesome arrangement, and fantastic performance.  10/10
  6. I Pray – Written by Lyn Rowell and Wendy Wills, this song gives Olivia a feature and completes her transition that started with her feature on The Answer from a child vocalist doing mostly gimmicky songs (“My Favorite Things”) to a more serious vocalist.  “I Pray” announces that Olivia is following in her older siblings footsteps and is growing into a fine vocalist as well.  She takes this tender, acoustic ballad and turns in a very solid performance with her siblings adding background harmonies behind her.  She shows a fullness and depth in her lower alto range that points directly at her maturing voice.  It’s a very pretty song that Olivia communicates very well.  8.5/10
  7. At Calvary – William Newell’s classic hymn has had a lot of different arrangements and performances over the years, but it’s hard to top this one.  The first verse and chorus are performed by the entire family, then the ladies’ trio takes the second verse.  Phil Jr. steps up and nails third verse, with his two older sisters joining him on the last two lines of the verse and a chorus.  The arrangment shifts slightly from a traditional ballad to more of a power ballad.  The last verse brings the whole family back in and continues ratcheting up the intensity.  It’s a tremendous arrangement that really drives home the power of the lyric.  The other major highlight of the recording.  10/10
  8. I Found It All – Courtney steps up to sing this flowing ballad by Wayne Haun and Helga Kaefer that has just a hint of an inspirational feel to it.  She’s joined by Brooklyn and Phil Jr. on the choruses.  Sometimes you come across songs that seem to be just made for a certain singer’s voice.  This is true of this song and Courtney, she has just a certain quality to her voice that fits this song and arrangement.  The three older Collingsworth children have really developed a sound and blend that is something special.  Another really good song.  9.5/10
  9. Just Another Rainy Day – The tempo speeds up on this song that was written by Cindi Ballard and Daryl Williams.  Originally recorded by Lordsong, this version is a bit more fully developed with some nice bluesy piano playing behind vocals.  Phil Jr. takes the first verse, Courtney takes the second, then after a second chorus the key changes and Brooklyn takes the melody.  After a false tag and ending, the chorus repeats.  This would be another great radio release and should be a huge concert hit that gets the toes tapping and hands clapping.  I really like this one!  9.5/10
  10. Praise You – The group pulls out a fairly obscure Bill and Gloria Gaither tune that has a flowing midtempo feel to it.  Brooklyn starts out singing solo, then is joined for a duet by Phil Jr., then the ladies trio comes in.  All of which happens just in the first verse.  The entire family comes back in for the chorus.  After a key change, Phil Sr. takes the next verse, joined by Kim for a duet in the middle of the verse.  If I’m not mistaken, Olivia joins her parents to finish the verse as a trio, another sign of her growth as a vocalist.  It’s interesting that we get all the way to track 10 before Phil Sr. has a vocal feature.  I still would love to hear him sing baritone with a male quartet at some point in time, he’s got such a rich, full voice.  The tag has some neat vocal turns that are a bit reminiscent of what you’d have heard from the late 70s – early 80s Imperials.  Nice song.  8.5/10
  11. That’s The Place I’m Longing To Go – Written by Robert Batton, this is an acoustic/mountain flavored ballad.  It’s a beautiful ballad that points to Heaven.  The entire family sings the first verse and chorus incredibly smoothly.  The second verse starts out with the ladies trio, then Phil Sr. takes the last couple of lines with the rest of the family behind him for the last couple lines of the verse.  The subsequent chorus provides the musical “moment” of the album, when the instruments all drop out in the middle of the chorus to feature a couple of acappella lines from the family that feature incredibly tight, lush harmonies.  If you aren’t listening close, you’ll miss some of the chord voicings that really fill out the harmonies.  It is gorgeous and will give you a shiver and get the hair on your neck standing.  Wow.  That’s what this group is so good at.  Just a nice, easy listen on a beautiful song with some added bonus thrown in musically.  9.5/10
  12. The Resurrection Morn – Another largely forgotten Bill and Gloria Gaither classic closes out the disc, and it does so in fine fashion.  The song starts with the family singing in unison, then Kim sings the second verse solo.  There’s a sense of restrained building from the beginning of the song, you can tell from the moment that the vocals come in that the song will not stay in the restrained manner that it starts.  After the family sings the chorus, Phil Sr. sings the next verse solo and does an excellent job.  The fourth verse sees the family sing in unison, with a key change in the middle of the verse, then they split into parts on the last phrase verse to lead into the chorus with Brooklyn taking the melody.  There’s some nice chord changes in the tag that make you think they are changing the key again, before going back to the original key.  It’s a powerful close to the disc.  9/10

Overall: 9.5  To be honest, my first reaction to the CD was “This is good, but not quite as good as The Answer.”  While I still don’t find a song that knocks my socks off the way that “Fear Not Tomorrow” did, this album has really grown on me with repeated listens.  While this CD may not have an individual standout song, top to bottom I believe this album equals its predecessor.  “Nothing’s Worrying Me” is unique, and “At Calvary” is the best of arrangement of that classic hymn I have heard.  Producer Wayne Haun is a master at getting the most out of the groups he produces.  Two things really stand out to me on this CD:

First, the growth of Phil Collingsworth, Jr. as a vocalist.  His voice had started changing on The Answer, but it has completed its transformation on this disc, and young Phil has developed quite a tenor voice, in a mixed group sense.  The influence of Signature Sound’s Doug Anderson is unmistakeable in his approach to singing, and Phil would make a fine quartet lead singer.  His voice has retained a higher range than that of his father, and has a lighter tone to it that really complements his father’s heavier sounding vocals.  While the last album was Courtney’s opportunity to shine as a maturing vocalist, the spotlight is squarely on Phil, Jr. with this album, and he steps up and meets the challenge head on.  It will be exciting to watch his progress as a vocalist.

Second, the Collingsworth family has become so adept to complex harmonies that it is quite remarkable.  There are a multitude of places in the course of this CD that the group uses to tricky, complex harmonies, but they use them in passing tones as they are changing chords, and if you aren’t paying attention you are apt to miss them.  The effortlessness with which they perform advanced harmonies is nothing short of amazing.  This is mostly present in “That’s The Place”, but you can find the same thing in several other spots on the CD as well.

This is a great start to a relationship between the Collingsworth Family and StowTown records.  Wayne Haun picked the right songs and arranged them in a way that really complements the strengths of each of the vocalists.  With her performance on “Nothing’s Worrying Me”, Brooklyn has taken the next step towards becoming an elite level soprano.  Courtney continues to impress, and her song “I Found It All” fits her voice and style perfectly.  She is well on her way to becoming another of SG’s unsung “glue” vocalists.  Phil Jr. gets a lot of chances to shine on this disc and he doesn’t disappoint with any of them.  Olivia shows that her transition to a capable vocalist has been completed, as not only does she do well with her feature, but she’s also more present in the mix when the entire family is singing.  You already know that Phil and Kim are going to give you the highest level of quality in their performances, and they continue to do so on this album, but they’ve also seemed to take a step back on this CD to allow their children to showcase their growing talents and abilities.  This album is also unique in their canon in that it is all vocal performances, there are no instrumentals to be found, which is a testament to the maturation and growth of the vocal ensemble sound.  Part Of The Family is a resounding job well done by all involved, and you won’t want to miss out on this album!

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