Review: Gaither Vocal Band-Better Together.


As always I was highly anticipating the release of a new Gaither Vocal Band album, and I traditionally buy every record they put out since their debut album.  That tradition of ‘sight unseen’ purchases seems to develop into another tradition, a tradition of disappointment.

This release continues that unfortunate tradition. I always expect to be surprised, or moved by a Gaither Vocal Band album, regretfully none of these occurred.

It seems the mastering process has buried the killer harmonies that are on this record. To catch a glimpse of the harmonies  get some high-end headphones. Mastering is supposed to be the gateway between production and consumption according to wikipedia, apparently on this record that gateway was closed. The voices sound too subdued, the lead is turned up, while the rest are indistinguishable singing back up. It’s the vocal equivalent of mashed potatoes. Hard to single out a specific potato, even harder to single out its part. I love to hear the construction of the harmony, the chord structures! The subtle variations in individual melody lines, I’m sucker for that, and I miss that on this album! And on almost every Southern Gospel album put out in the last decade or so.  Todd Suttles is way too heavy in the overall mix, with his airy bass tones he throws a smothering heavy blanket over the entire record. Wes Hampton is drowned out in the mix, this album would have sounded a lot fresher, and better when Wes was turned up in the mix. Wes Hampton to me is the finest singer in the Vocal Band, and every time he had a solo I caught my self sighing in relief. David Phelps his solo singing sounds pseudo nonchalant as if he isn’t really having a good time. I’m not saying he isn’t,  but this is the vibe I get. Adam Crabb is an incredible singer,  but just like his brother Jason  a ‘Michael English lite! Bill Gaither’s contribution as far as vocals go is negligible, it makes one wonder if Gaither sang much at all (except for his solo on “You’ve Got a Friend).

The songs:

  1. “Working on the Building” a traditional spiritual type song. Everyone has done this from Elvis to the Cowboy Junkies. I love dusting off or re-inventing the old standards, but this rendition is really the same old same old.Still these spirituals are a great fit for the Vocal Band.
  2. “Lead Out of Bondage” a classic tune written by Robert L. Prather done by every self-respecting quartet back in the day. Todd Suttles does the narration verses, and does them pretty good. But the track distracts, especially the lush violins, that play parts reminiscent of a brass section and are to dominant in the mix. Would rather have heard a good updated version of Prather’s song “Heading Home” that the Statesmen Quartet did on their Nabisco TV Show back in the 50’s.
  3. Dallas Holm has written so many great tunes, and they pick “Heart of Mine” a simple tune executed in a slow western swing fashion. Again the potential of the tight harmonies are lost in translation (mix). Great fiddle playing in this song. Wes Hampton sings the lead on this mediocre tune and made the most of it. Wish they’d recorded “He Knew me Then”or  “Drifting” that Dallas Holm did with Phil Johnson and Tim Sheppard.
  4. “When He Set Me Free”. A stomping tune, that Russ Taff nailed on his  “Under their Influence” album that won a Grammy back in ’83. A rendition that can not be topped by anyone. Todd Suttles sings all kinds of counterpoint* bass lines, some threw me off, or annoyed me is a better word. It seems as if Bill Gaither is trying to make up for the lack of a real bass singer in one single song….it’s just too much.
  5. George R.Poulton wrote the melody of “Aura Lea” a civil war song about a maiden (Wikipedia). Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender” had the same melody. Lovely melody, fantastic orchestrated track,  and amazing harmonies.  Gloria Gaither wrote the words to this song carried by this too familiar melody. The song’s entitled “But I Need You More”, the message would have rung so much clearer had Gloria, Bill or Todd narrated them with the guys in the background humming and doing  ooh’s and aah’s on that classic melody.
  6. “Dig a Little Deeper” apart from the mix is really fantastic! Todd Suttles is superb on this, all the guys rock this one! Honorable mention to Wes Hampton! Spiritual songs and Wes are a match made in heaven.
  7. “Moses Smote The Water” like “Dig a Little Deeper” a great spiritual with a hard-driving track. But again the full potential of the players, and singers isn’t exploited to the max. It’s lacking texture and contrast in the mix.
  8. “We’ll Talk It Over” written by Ira Stanphill is arguably the best version I have ever heard. Fantastic song, with beautiful 40/50’s cinematic sounding strings, and wonderful singing by Phelps who’s lyrical and dramatic tenor voice paint a lush picture of Heaven. A great tribute to Danny Gaither who had that same dramatic quality to his voice and sang this song with great flair. Yet again the mix disappoints. I sound like a broken record…believe me, I know!
  9. “Didn’t It Rain” is my favorite tune on this album. Adam Crabb does exceptionally good on the first verse. Wes Hampton takes the second and sounds awesome! Phelps’ rounds the tune out, with some amazing harmonies by the others.
  10. Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend”…..why????? Bill Gaither sings the opening lines….and i’m sorry to say this, but I made my oldest son listen to this cut. And he said ‘who’s that singing? Sounds like Elmer Fudd! Apart from that, the track has the same arrangement as the original cut James Taylor did complete with the identical acoustic guitar lick. And Bill is feeding them the words on random spots in the song, as if these guys don’t know the words to this milked dry evergreen. If they really wanted to do a James Taylor song why not do “Walk Down That lonesome Road” or ‘Shed a Little Light?  Uninspiring, and unimaginative are words that come to mind as far as this song goes.
  11. The title cut “Better Together” written by Dony and Reba McGuire-Rambo, Gaither and Chip Davis. I’ve heard the early demos of this, and seen it come to develop into full blossom, and although this is a reasonable cut, it lacks the urgency of the message…especially in these trying times where individualism is king this is the message that is needed. The Vocal Band kind of sounds like the Imperials when they had Sherman Andrus in their ranks…..which is a good thing. Yet I miss dynamics, contrast in this rendition, and the addition of strings makes it a “Disney” tune. I would have loved a more raw and gritty approach to this.
  12. “Walk On The Water” opens with the same guitar riff as in “One Good Song” that was on the “I Do Believe” album. It’s a classic Gaither Vocal Band tune, and probably a song that they had shelved from the time Penrod was with them. Here Phelps’s pseudo nonchalance is heard best it irritates the crap out of me. This song lacks creativity, both lyrically and musically…’s like they recorded it before…a dime a dozen.

Honesty bids me to say that, would I have written this review after the first time I heard it, I probably would have burned it down to the ground. But listening with intent and great headphones I was able to appreciate some of the songs more than I initially did. Discovering little vocal licks I hadn’t heard. Having said that, it bothers me even more that this is in potential a great record had they paid more attention to the mix of the vocals and tracks.The whole record is blurry as far as harmony goes! I still believe they are the most talented crew out there, and that they can do better! it seems they just lack direction, and obviously a guy with ‘ears’ in the mixing/mastering process.  Hiring outside the A-list musicians could help too, we need different sounds, and licks bad!   And for Heavens sake sing some more obscure old songs, and some great new ones. A group with this name and stature can afford to cross boundaries, and break the mold. You’re not done yet Bill Gaither you hear?! This can’t be your swan song! It just can’t be!


*counterpoint is the relationship between voices that are harmonically interdependent (polyphony) yet independent in rhythm and contour. (source Wikipedia)









Review: Steve Ladd ‘A Christmas Hymn’


Leonardo Da Vinci once said “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” that quote was the first thing that came to mind when I played this new album of collection of Christmas songs.  Pair a virtuoso pianist with an exceptional singer and you get sophistication. Steve Ladd is that exceptional singer, and the Gaither Vocal Band’s piano player Matthew Holt is that virtuoso! Holt arranged every song on this album. The recording produced by Ladd and Steve Allen.


The album starts out with ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’ and the piano introduction is so wonderful, tasteful and to the point. When Steve Ladd joins the already great music, it instantaneously becomes stellar! Just Steve with a piano….is heavenly! What a voice this wonderful brother has! Matthew Holt’s piano playing reminds me of John Pantry’s piano playing….very nice!

My favorite Christmas song is next ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’. Again just that voice and those ivory’s. Christmas songs are the ultimate opportunity for group singing, for harmonizing, the melodies lend themselves to all that, and of course the ‘together‘ oriented holiday attributes to that feeling. Not once throughout the album have I noticed the absence of background vocals…not once. Steve’s voice has such clarity and the semblance of innocence. Such a pristine tone….he don’t need no other singers.

‘El’ is the hebrew word for God and No means birth, NO-EL….birth God. ‘The First Noel’ what an awesome tune this is. In its current form, it is of Cornish origin, and it was first published in 1823. It is usually performed in a four-part hymn arrangement by the English composer John Stainer, first published in his Carols, New and Old in 1871. Steve totally nails this magnificent song.

An album with the title ‘A Christmas Hymn’ could not be considered complete without ‘Silent Night’. To me Gold City’s version of this evergreen was the best ever! And in a group setting they still are, but solo this position goes to Steve Ladd! Wonderful playing and singing, can’t say it enough, you will have to listen for yourself. Like Walt Whitman said; “simplicity is the glory of expression”….my writing is anything but simple,  and therefore can not accurately express the brilliance of this recording.

‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman’ opens with a ridiculously good piano intro…wow…this is the best I’ve heard Matthew Holt play! This song was never my favorite, I could stand The Cathedral Quartet singing it, but all other renditions I usually skipped. The credits for this rendition’s captivating quality goes to Holt!

Next is another personal favorite Christmas tune, again Gold City held the favorite spot for nearly twenty years (that’s when I first heard their rendition), and now there’s Steve Ladd knocking ‘Away in a Manger’ out of the park. It’s all about the respect for the original melody. And the lyrics are so easily understood due to Ladd’s great diction. Tasteful and accurate piano playing embraces the voice, this isn’t just great accompanying, this is the song, it’s not about the guys’s inexpressible. And the inexpressible which  can only be expressed by two things……music, or silence!

‘What Child is This? Composer William Chatterton Dix was an insurance salesman. At age 29, he was bedridden for months due to a near fatal illness. During this trying time Dix began to write hymns. The most memorable of his songs is What Child is This? Beautiful song set to the melody of an old English folksong. This rendition is truly one of the best I ever heard!

‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear’ again a treasure to my tiny Christmas music collection, I only enjoyed the following Christmas albums. Here’s that shortlist Gold City (Parker/Free era) Elvis (with Imperials) The Imperials (Taff era) Harry Connick Jr. And now Steve Ladd is added.  It is getting boring….I know…but I’m excited by this album!

What a joy this album is! Brought joy to my world, a world that can use some. ‘Joy to the World’ . Steve Ladd is a singer, his voice never is boring, he’s one of those tenors that you can listen to all day! There’s not many that I can stand listening to for the length of an entire album!

Knowing Steve personally I can sense the integrity and love this guy has for music, singing and his fellow-man. I know he is the real deal! That sincerity is reflected by his pure voice. He lives by a simple standard, he loves his Lord, and lives that to the fullest! If one quote is fitting for this album and it’s artist Leo Tolstoy said it best; ” There is no greatness where there is no simplicity, goodness and truth”.


Review “Journal of a Songstress” by Destiny Rambo McGuire.


“It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.” (von Goethe)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a gifted playwriter, novelist, poet, statesman, scientist, and philosopher. But above all these marvelous titles he was an amazing thinker! Listen to what his quote says; It is the function (why it’s here, and how it’s supposed to work) ,  he then he then continued saying, ‘that it’s supposed to renew our perception’.  Speaking of such! A lot of the music cranked out in the music scene is nothing more than the same old same old….it really is. Music in general is almost reduced to wall of sound, with less melody and more bpm’s (beats per minute), sucked vacuum by the lack of content.  But thank God for beautiful music and wonderful crafty wordsmiths! “Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us”. said Marten Luther!

Thank God for Destiny Rambo McGuire, daughter of Reba Rambo McGuire and Dony McGuire. Who is not only a lovely, and gifted young lady. But a stunning, ravishing young woman who possesses a rare kind of elegance. This young lady is the grand-daughter of the late and legendary Dottie Rambo, never was there anyone that was such a worthy and fitting heir. You’ll hear people describing the human voice like an instrument, and Destiny sure has a fine instrument!  In short, she’s got it all! Beautiful as fine china,a poetic writer, a nomad, mysterious, and what a voice!

Her latest album entitled “Journal of a Songstress” is nothing short of breathtaking! It opens with a Donna Summer disco sounding song, I am transported to the old couch at my folks home, where I’m watching an episode of ‘Love Boat”. First song on the album is entitled “He Gave Me Music“, it’s full of wah-wah riffs on a guitar, strings, brass,slap bass and a disco beat. Very uplifting, and love the unexpected opening of this album. Unexpected? Yes because the album art suggests anything but this, that’s why this is a good choice!

Second on the album is “Letters to Cinderella” which features Nick Britt singing harmony on the choruses. Nick Britt and Destiny in duet sound just as good as Leslie Philips and Paul Smith did on “Make My Heart Your Own“. Don’t know who wrote this song (I hate writing reviews without credits) but it’s a superb lyric. Musically it would fit a Disney movie very well, if there’s no script to fit these lyrics, somebody ought to start writing them. I’m lyrical about this song! The first definition of the word ‘lyrical’ is ‘expressing deep personal emotion or observations’ the second is ‘highly enthusiastic; rhapsodic’. If there was ever a ‘bohemian rhapsody’ this is it! Destiny is expressing deep personal emotion, and does so in a highly enthusiastic manner.

The third song has the melodious makings of an old Irish tune….at least that’s the association I make. Maybe you’ll hear Jamaica in it…. it don’t make no difference really ,whatever or where ever….it sounds bloody marvelous anyway.

Let me make this statement now, to the writers that contributed to this album, some of who are unbeknownst to me. Who ever you guys are, there’s a minimum of two extra stars going be set in your crowns!!

Garden of Incense” is the next track, that starts with a piano fly that sounds like a thing Dr John would do..a great gritty track, Destiny’s crystal clear, soft, yet piercing vocals and the floating background vocals seem out-of-place, against that groovy backdrop. Somehow this provides a harmonious contrast that boosts this song into the ‘remarkable’ section of your music library. It’s been a while that I was so excited by a record.

The fourth song is also of world-class, magnificent perfect melody, everything comes together two exceptional singers Destiny and Nicole Nordeman…wonderful singing, beautiful playing, superb lyrics…and that melody..did I mention that before? The song’s entitled “He Starts With The End”…wow! ”

“I Just Came To Talk With You Lord” that Dottie Rambo wrote is next…the musicians are playing with a such a believable jazz vibe. I could hear Norah Jones sing this song. Destiny is a world-class performer, a nightingale….this is soooo good….this familiar tune made my jaw drop, as if I heard it for the first time.

My daughter heard the next song on the album, and said “hey dad’s playing ‘modern music’!Well I love u 2 darling! No kidding…but that’s what she said, and I was grinning from ear to ear, she suddenly thinks I’m cool. The song entitled “Upside Down” is besides stellar, modern indeed. Not because my daughter (eleven years old)  said so, but because this will always be considered modern…songs like this will never grow old.

Let me quickly skip to track  14 (there’s a total of 15 songs on this album), now that we’re talking about songs that will never get old “He Will Provide” a great standard from the gospel quartet’s golden era! Written by Cornelius ‘Mac’ McGuire (grandfather) and her father Dony. A song I first heard sung by the obscure Sabers Quartet years ago. This cut’s musical setting is a piano and lush violins. Destiny is joined by Sonya Isaacs Yeary and Rebecca Isaacs Bowman, these three should record a complete album! Very moving rendition, and thank you, lovely Destiny for breathing new life into that classic, thanks for bringing it back to the party.

I suddenly feel incapable, unfit and  totally inadequate to continue like this. Continuing struggling, trying to describe the splendor of this gem! Sorry y’all,  but I can’t muster more superlatives without repeating myself! And in the days of short attention spans,  I’m in grave danger to alienate my audience (yeah right, as if)  by boring the living daylights out of you. So let me state that this album is a fest for the mind, body and soul.

You won’t be bored with this truly creative and daring album, I guarantee that, you may even quote me on that! I urge you all to buy this album on iTunes, and write the rest of the review, on the pages of your mind!  This is a one of the most amazing albums I heard in a long time. Masterfully produced album and my sincerest compliments to whomever was responsable for the production! This is truly an album of epic proportions, it’s intimate, uplifting, thought-provoking. Just all around impressive!

Destiny Rambo McGuire’s album is available through iTunes! Merry Christmas…and spread a little love around!


Chip Davis – Standing In My Own Way


Introducing Chip Davis;  Chip being one of the most in-demand background singers in the Nashville area. He has performed on literally thousands of records now. Worked with names like Mickey Newbury, Randy Travis, Tim McCraw, Gordon Mote, Michael English, Reba McIntyre, Dolly Parton and the list goes on and on. Check out Chip’s site ( if you want to read all about Chip, because my formal introduction of Chip Davis ends here.

I want to talk about truth, talent and courage, and how all these great assets are manifested on Chip’s only solo album ever, that I recently bought. And I could talk to great lengths about how great his voice is. Or how well it was produced by his brother Billy. Could mention that Chip wrote or co-wrote most of the material on there and how thought-provoking and well crafted his lyrics are. How they talk about bigotry, prejudice, love, hate and religion. Would be nice if I could ramble on how he addresses these topics. Topics that hardly and sadly aren’t topics at all among Christians and in their churches. Could talk about the 10.000 flavors of Christians, that he sings about in ‘God Save Us All From Religion’. Maybe it would be nice to mention that, that song opens in almost the same fashion as ‘Pianoman‘ by Billy Joel. If I mentioned that, I probably would have shared the fact that Billy Joel is one of Chip’s musical heroes.

I read some comments on Chip’s website by other people, folks like Suzanne Gaither Jennings, Tony Campolo, Mark Lowry and others. In retrospect I wish I hadn’t, because some were so heartfelt/warming, insightful and eloquent, that I immediately felt inadequate and obsolete to add anything to those. But after hearing this voice, music, lyrics and it’s message, I felt called upon to get everybody I can reach through this writing to take notice of this gifted singer/songwriter. I just want to let you know how rare, and unique (regretfully so) this man’s music and message is.

So unique, that record companies that use his talents for songwriting, producing and back-up singing for their artists, won’t touch/release his solo album. Basically the album been sitting’ here for over 5 years. ‘So maybe it isn’t pretty or good enough’ I hear some cynics think! It’s often said that the truth ain’t pretty. And like all cliché expressions that expression rings true 99% of the time. Which by itself could be reason enough to become all crusty and cynical. Still sometimes truth can be beautiful, hence the remaining 1%!!! Now take my word for it or not, both truth and beauty are equally represented on this album! All wonderful truths like grace, forgiveness, and love are at the core of this album. Some lyrics are very in your face, downright confronting! Was reminded of a song Suzanne Gaither Jennings wrote entitled ‘Steel on Steel’ that said; “Well, we’re not known for holdin’ back opinions.I’ve got my knack for invadin’ your space. I ain’t afraid of cleanin’ your carpet And I ain’t afraid of gettin’ your face’.  Confronting? I hear some say, ‘now that ain’t fun’, also true, it is not always comfortable and nice. So how can that be beautiful? Confrontation can be hard, hard for the confronter (is that even a word?) because he/or she summoned all his/her strength, and courage to tell you what is bothering them about you. Hard for the confronted, because what they are about to tell you ain’t all that pretty, and thus probably true, and that tics us off even more! Yet if that message is delivered with the right intentions, it can  bring people together, if we set aside our pride. Like another verse in Suzanne’s song says; ‘When the smoke clears I know you’re a brother
Follow this through to the bitter end. If we stick around we might learn something, Something about how to be a good friend’. So we need to hear the truth every now and then, and not shoot the brother who delivers it!

Brother Chip singing his big ol’ heart out to remind us, what being a Christian is all about! And that is love! Love! that’s the reason Jesus went to the cross! Love is the greatest commandment, and granted, also the hardest. Don’t think for a minute Chip pretends that he’s got it all together, on more than one occasion he sings about his own shortcomings, doubts and failures.  He’s vulnerable and transparent throughout this magnificent album.So make no mistakes Chip loves Jesus! He is his savior and Lord, but he refuses to hate other people who won’t, or don’t dance to his particular tune!

Though it may seem Chip in spite of all his talent got the short end of the stick. I would say, you are probably right! Which is also fundamentally wrong! Chip is one courageous dude in my book. Even when this album is never picked up by any label, I hope Chip finds consolation in what Thomas Jefferson once said. Jefferson said; ‘One man with courage is a majority’. Some parts of Ray Boltz’s great song ‘Thank You‘ came to mind, and fragments of the verses surfaced in my brain. Parts like where it says; ‘Little things that you had done, Sacrifices you made,They were unnoticed on the earth,In heaven now proclaimed’. And the final two lines of that song that say ‘My child look around you, for great is your reward’.

Also was reminded of some backliner notes on my favorite Statesmen Quartet album (LPM1605) from 1958. Where the group members were briefly introduced to the buying public by Paul Jones of the Atlanta Constitution (newspaper). When Jones introduced Jake Hess lead singer of the quartet, he wrote ‘Jake Hess whose great gospel singing is heard in most of the solo parts. Only his love for inspirational music has kept Jake from becoming one of the really great popular singers in the nation’. I happen to think Paul Jones was right about Jake.

If I had written the backliner notes on Chip’s album it would have read; ‘Chip Davis love for Gospel music, and the true meaning of the Gospel, has  kept him from becoming a household name in the Gospel music industry’. Which is pretty sad, but as a jewish proverb says;  ‘If God lived on earth, people would probably break his windows’.

I love this album! And I love Chip Davis! He ain’t heavy he’s my brother!

Chip’s album is available through his website take a listen here:


CD – Review ‘On My Own’ – Steve Ladd (by Auke Bijlsma)


Steve Ladd has been on his own for almost 4 years now, and cranked out two albums prior to this CD. I must be honest I haven’t heard the first two. I heard Steve first with The Anchormen and later with Gold City singing the high part and he did a fine job back then. Now that I’m being honest, I also must confess that I bought almost no solo stuff put out by any tenor singers. Don’t get me wrong I love tenor singers, but only or mostly in a quartet setting. The often thin and high-pitched vocals usually get on my nerves after a few tracks. There are few exceptions I enjoy,  for instance I love Jonathan Pierce’s and David Phelps solo stuff. There’s a Larry Ford record I got, that was produced by Michael Sykes if I’m not mistaken. Oh and if Terry Franklin had made a solo record (sans Barbi) I would have bought it! And now I add Steve Ladd to that list, I know probably to short of a list for most, but hey I’m picky!  Either way, that’s good company any given day of the week Steve!

Steve’s voice has a quality to his voice that reminds me of singers like Dennis Deyoung of Styx, and that guy of The Sweet Comfort Band, can’t think of his name right now, but it’ll come to me later on. Steve’s got a high powerful voice, clear as bell, yet with a light raspy and vulnerable edge. This album was produced by Steve himself, Michael Sykes and Michael English. Both English and Sykes are vocally present on this album. Granted that Michael English his trademark background vocals are more prominent than any other background vocalist on the album. To me that is a good thing, because I’m an English fan from the first time I heard him.  Joyce Martin Sanders also sings back up on the album,  she is amazing, soulful and versatile. Let me take you through the tracks one by one…that’s probably sensible, since this ought to be a review of some sort.

First song on the album entitled ‘We Need Jesus’ written by John and Dino Elefante and Scott Springer. I knew this song from the 80’s reli-rock band Petra, and this where my opinion about Steve having that rock band lead singer quality makes suddenly sense. When he sings the first verse, he keeps it light and breathy. Steve sounds like a 17 year old during that first verse, and I mean that in a good way, he sounds kinda cute there. But when he breaks into the chorus singin’ ‘The Lord is Our God‘…he sounds like one of the best rock singer I have ever heard (Jerry Martin being the best).

Next song was penned by Bud Chambers who wrote over 7000 songs….funny thing is that once you have to mention that somebody wrote that many songs, folks only know one of two songs by that somebody. The song is “One More River To Cross‘. I always loved this song, ever since I heard it first on a Gaither tape….’And I heard it first on a Gaither tape‘ hmm got a nice ring to it.  Anyway Steve’s vocal treatment, and wonderful background singing by Michael English and Joyce Martin Sanders. The rhythm is good old stomping country tinged  rock and roll, they eliminate the usual swaying rhythm, and opt for a straight, almost mechanical pace, pumping the soul level to the max. Good stuff…man! Amazing BGV’s did I mention that already?!  Man!! do I love Michael English!

While we’re at it, the next tune is also a gem. Why? Well it is a lovely simple tune, well written lyrically and musically. Most songs that share that rare sacred bond are emotionally/musically functional. Meaning that it gets the message swiftly to where it’s supposed to be! Straight to the heart! Steve opens again in that beautiful vulnerable tone….while a acoustic guitar is lightly present. An organ caresses the then still frail frame of the song, but the buildup continues. The second story of the melodic building is crafted by Candy Hemphill Christmas. Candy daughter of the author of ‘Master of the Wind’ Joel Hemphill. She has such a wonderful clear voice, a voice solid as a rock, and yet delicate as fine china. A perfect match with Steve, a match that is made through harmony when they sing together. Beautiful isn’t word enough, divine comes closer, a Pentecostal would say ‘anointed!  And when Michael Sykes adds a third part it hits you! this is God-given talent any which way you look at it!  Candy Christmas is a wonderful singer, and a true representative of Christ’s love . Check out her Bridge Ministry, she deserves an extra star in her crown for that alone! So that’s sweet singing  by a sweet sister!

Next track already!! Well what can I say? It kinda starts uh kinda corny.  But then the chorus kicks in…and wow…love the counterparts Michael English sings around Steve, the next verse is amazing, and then that chorus again, intenser than the first, but not overdone….harmonies…well Eagles look out! Song’s title? Jesus Saves!

Steve Ladd’s next pick for the album is ‘Heaven‘ a song that was on Michael English’s first solo album! I must say that this song has never done it for me…but in this approach I kinda like it! There is much going on! Funny thing is that Michael’s  background singing makes this cut better than his own rendition. Well I can’t explain, won’t describe, or even attempt to do so! Buy the freaking record already and see for yourself!

‘We shall see the King, when He comes’ is one of my favorite tracks on this here CD! It’s gritty, with again amazing soulful back-up singing! It’s an old song! Written by either John B.Vaughan or James.D.Vaughan. The latter is the first man ever to put a Gospel Quartet on the road to sell shaped-note songbooks back in 1910.  John B. was a composer/writer who taught at a school of music down in Waco Tx. John B. Vaughan according to Wikipedia wrote only two songs, and that’s counting this one!  So I like to think John B. wrote this one too.  After all J.D. Vaughan wrote about six of ’em, and built an empire selling printed music. So let John B. have this one. What a lovely, lovely song John!

When I read the title of this song, I must admit that I hoped it to be another song.One with the exact same title. ‘Not Guilty’  is it’s title, and the song I hoped for was done by british gospel singer John Pantry. But it wasn’t the song I hoped for, though it may seem to some, that I had set myself up for a huge disappointment, and truth be told, I kinda did, didn’t I? How marvelous the surprise! What beautiful singing, wonderful lyrics and wonderful tasteful musicianship by the players. Disappointed? No sir, not at all, pleasantly surprised!

 Look out Bryan Duncan! ok there you go! See? I told you guys I would think of that name earlier on didn’t I? The next song is  sweet comfort in a dirty blues, and that’s a thumbs up y’all, very believable…for white guys that is. I mean…it’s been said that white men can’t jump, and that they can’t sing the blues either. Well you got another thing comin’. This is great, this is blues….with a amazing B3 solo thrown in for good measure. And brother Steve can sing….I think by now we can safely establish that!  The song’s entitled ‘I went away to pray’. Again the background vocalists are so great, that yours truly, a wannabe singer sat down and cried a little, after that I just went away and prayed ‘Lord will You make me better or them less good?  Great tune!

Now let me start with the song title first, I always forget to mention them early in my rants. Title is  ‘Breathe In, Breathe Out’. Now at least the title is out-of-the-way, or is it? Stupid to confess maybe, but I don’t get the title, the words don’t make sense to me. I won’t say what part I don’t get, but if you buy this amazing album, the unclear will be clear to you, or vice versa…or not at all. Spiritually I’m probably an infant, or a toddler at best.

Amazing, that to me,  this album is, how amazing Steve sings, amazing how the pickers and singers made Steve even look better than he already is. Never liked the pairing of the words ‘simply’ and ‘amazing’, …to me there’s nothing simple about grace, that’s what makes it kind of amazing! The last song is absolutely amazing, talks about the most amazing fact of life itself, that there’s Grace greater than all our sins. It’s amazing..and that is what this song says..’it’s Amazing’.

Onto the business end of music then, what’s the production-value of this album one might ask?  The answer to that one is,  it holds the highest production value of all…..and that is  feeling!  A lot of top-notch produced albums lack just that……feeling.

Let me conclude with a quote by an unknown author that says;

                                                    ‘Music is what feelings sound like’.

Album credits:

Produced by Michael Sykes, Michael English and Steve Ladd.

 Players: Joel Key-acoustic, electric guitars

Jonathon Brown- Organ, piano

Duncan Mullins- bass,session leader

Garth Justice- drums, programming

Steve Allen- percussion

Alan Pancake-  strings on Not Guilty, It’s Amazing

Dustin Jenkins-strings on Heaven

Tracks recorded at Cabana Studio (Garth Justice engineer)

Vocals recorded at Square One Studio (Steve Allen engineer)

Background vocals: Michael English, Joyce Martin Sanders, Steve Ladd

Mixed by Pete Green  

Mastered by Steve Allen

CD Review- “Pure & Simple” Gaither Vocal Band (by Auke Bijlsma)


Artist: Gaither Vocal Band

Album: Pure & Simple

Label: Gaither Music

Producer: Ben Isaacs

I know many fans of the Gaither Vocal Band urged the powers that be (Bill Gaither ) to record something that wasn’t stacked to high heaven, over orchestrated and generally overproduced. A cry for a more real and straightforward record was heard. I was one of them, so when I heard of an album in the making that would be kept pure, and simple I was kinda excited to say the least. Now without further delay, here’s my view on the album.

The album opens with a song entitled ‘Rasslin’ Jacob’ it seems that the arrangement that The Dixie Hummingbirds used on their Diamond Jubilation: 75th Anniversary album was the Vocal Band’s mold, it’s almost exactly the same. Michael English takes the lead vocals and this is the kind of song he carries very well. Bill Gaither sings nice bass lines, the other guys sound great, but  the mix sounds kinda muffled . I would have liked to hear more dynamics, the tenor part isn’t prominent enough. The Dixie Hummingbirds version is different in that respect, the Vocal Band’s cut kinda sounds like a solo effort by Michael English, the vocals backing him up could be anyone, I like to be able to pick out each singer’s individual part.  The ending by the Gaither posse is where they leave the arrangement of the Dixie Hummingbirds, they shift to unison before ending in modern harmony and that is also where the parts can be identified and I love it.

‘Come To Jesus’  is a David Phelps feature, this song written by Mindy Smith is drenched in fiddles, mandolins. Although it’s a great song, and David Phelps sounds like he always does (which is great), this too sounds like something that would be considered a solo effort. The harmonies are stellar but too muffled, not expressive, just awesome BGV’s. There’s a lot of reverb and echo on this song, not really simple and or pure but it adds to the atmosphere of the tune. If you judge this song on its own merit, it’s a stunning song, but I can’t help listening to it as a GVB effort, and that’s where I am somewhat disappointed.

‘I Don’t Want To Get Adjusted’  doesn’t disappoint, again Michael shows he’s still a monster of a lead singer, and he makes this song his own. The harmony vocals are awesome but again to modest in the mix, I miss brilliance, the highs and lows are too intertwined. I am the first to admit that this is a matter of taste, so to each his own.

‘Glorious Freedom’ is one of my favorite songs ever written, love the build, the construction of the song, and lyrically it’s the ultimate in expressing the perk we Christians get when we make Him our choice. I love how the guys come in on the verse, here you can hear that little to no stacking of the vocals was done..awesome! Love this song.

‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On’ is a Mark Lowry feature, at first I didn’t care for this song that musically resembles the Peggy Lee song ‘Fever’. But the subtle ad-libs by the other guys, make me appreciate it more and more. Michael especially has some great ones. Also Bill Gaither can be heard prominently on the 3:00 mark, doing something I heard the bass-singer of The Delta Rhythm boys do, on a Nat ‘Cannonball” Adderley’s composition entitled ‘Work Song‘. Bill is loudly singing a deep and breathy ‘whoo’. As you should be able to figure out, I’m a sucker for details and this kind of stuff get’s me excited. Like this song very much.

Lehman’s ‘The Love of God’ is amazing. Vocally it’s perfectly arranged, the track is breathtaking. It’s very, very slow, and it may not something you would love to play all day without getting depressed. But if you’re in the mood for something melancholic, yet uplifting this is the song you wanna play!

‘Do You Wanna be Well’ is a Wes Hampton feature, if I didn’t knew any better I would have thought Ricky Skaggs sang the lead. Wes sounds just like Ricky did in the 80’s, this song  is the embodiment of easy-listening music. Lovely, lovely tune, and after the dragging, heavy funeral march tempo of ‘The Love of God’, you’re suddenly feeling carefree and happy again.

Charles Johnson’s ‘Winds of This World’ is next, what can I say? Michael was born to sing this kind of song. He’s just built for it. Love this song, there’s one thing though that bothers me in this song, and that’s the third verse, I will tell you what bothers me. After the awesome and powerful piano-solo that is situated between the second verse and the third, the track seems to collapse. The piano seems to be wrecked after the beating that it just took . The piano is turned down so radically in the mix it doesn’t make sense, you think ‘what happened to the pianoplayer? Later in the chorus the piano can be heard better, and the song picks up momentum when a choir is added to the mix to work to a great finally. Great song, awesome vocals by all the guys, the only ‘flaw‘ is the third verse and the lack of the piano in the mix after that genius solo.

‘Rumormill’ written by Jon Mohr is a Mark Lowry feature, love the lyric of this song, and the track is also great. Great guitar playing on this track. Not my favorite cut on the album, but a good remake of this song.

Another remake is next, and a lovely one! Michael sings the lead on ‘The Old Rugged Cross Made The Difference’. Never heard a better of interpretation of this song. I always regarded The Imperials version of this Gaither classic as the ultimate rendition till now. Awesome, especially David and Michael’s voice compliment each other more than I ever heard.

David is featured on ‘Fool’s Gold’ a haunting song, that fits David’s equally haunting voice.

“Cup of Sorrow” a Amos Lee tune that was featured on Lee’s ‘Mission Bell’ album is a Michael English feature, and it’s one of my favorite tunes on the entire album. The inclusion of an electric guitar, a Hammond B3 on this song on the predominantly acoustic track is a good call. Overall that was a good call, I think an all acoustic album would have been boring. Love the mandolin solo that follows the somewhat honky-tonk piano solo! The harmonies are stellar, and the tune demands you to sing along. Awesome song!

Teddy Huffam’s ‘I’m Rich’ is so awesome, David has the lead, on this song is where the full potential of this all-star GVB is heard for the first time in a long while. Beautiful harmonic inversions, and modern harmonies.

“I’ll Pray For You’ is the most beautiful song I ever heard, never have I heard Wes Hampton sing better! The track is also one of the most beautiful I ever heard. The track opens with a simple piano, you can hear the sound of the mechanics of the keys. Breathy BGV’s by the rest of the guys join in, an acoustic guitar is added, a mandolin.  A beautiful chamber orchestra is added to the mix, strings that don’t sound bluegrassy, or country. I was reminded of Schindler’s list, the track has a jewish feel to it. One of the most beautiful songs ever by anyone.

“Sow Mercy’ written by Reba and Dony McGuire, is one of those songs that sound like you’ve known it forever. Message is great, musically not really special. Mark Lowry is still one of the best and most solid singers in the business, very consistent.

A must buy for everybody who loves well crafted and produced music. Ben Isaacs did a great job on this one. A surprising album, that might prove to be an acquired taste to some, or an instant favorite. All in all I love the album, although overall I think the harmony voices sound too much like BGV’s.


Review “Some People Change” – Michael English. (by Auke Bijlsma)


Artist: Michael English

Album:’Some People Change’ (2012)

Label: Curb Records

This review is the first one I done before the record actually came out, and only a few connected to the production of the album have heard it.

Now I’m a guy who doesn’t automatically rave about any album by any artist I admire,
I take it as it comes, I like it, or I do not. Michael made some records I rarely listened
to, and that I bought just for the sake of keeping my collection complete.

This album is a collection of covers really, some quite well-known,
some more obscure.
I know only a few artists who could, and can get away with that.
A name that comes to mind is that of Elvis Presley, who practically made a career out of
singing other people’s songs.
I’d rather hear Elvis sing a Beatles tune than the fabulous four themselves.
A Bob Dylan tune by the King like ‘I Shall Be Released’ sounds a lot better than
the depressing monotonous raspy sound of scruffy Bob himself.
Another singer who made covers his very own was Ray Charles.
Hear Ray sing ‘Bye Bye Love’ and this will make you forget the original teeny bopper diddy by
the The Everly Brothers instantaneously.

There are more voices like that, people like Natalie Cole, Barbra Streisand, Aaron Neville,
Daryl Hall, John Farnham, Russ Taff, Steve Perry just to name a few.
Voices so captivating, distinctive and demanding, they’re kinda like cuckoos, in the context of taking someone’s nest and making it their own.

Michael English to me has that rare gift too. Michael’s take on Albert Hammond’s ‘When I Need You’ on the ‘Freedom’ album is another one that to me proves this fact.

Now let me walk you through the album and the songs on it;

The opener is the uptempo ‘Ain’t givin’ up on Jesus’ the same song Wilburn & Wilburn did and
still do, and do well.
Michael uses pretty much the same arrangement, although I like Michael’s instrumentation
better you can hear that Jay Demarcus (of Rascal Flatts) produced the album.
Michael’s incomparable melody interpretation makes the song more exciting to me, the way he
leans into the rhythm, sways on the chords, is the coolest thing. This song screams Michael
English! It’s a great way to get this thing rollin’.

The second song is ‘Come to The River’ a passionate soulful yet unpretentious tune, with
exceptional back-up singers, a laid back rhythm, warm Hammond B3 licks, and a cameo by none
other than Russ Taff.
Taff singing part of the second verse, and does typical Taff things around Michael’s lead, I
call them things because they are hard to describe…a Taff act to follow so to speak.
When two of the most influential singers in gospel music of the last few decades join forces
on a rather straightforward gospel song, it is anything but ordinary.

The next song on the album George Beverly Shea wrote the melody to. Speaking about ‘I Rather
Have Jesus’. The words were actually written by Rhea F. Miller from Brooktondale, NY.
One day in 1922,Rhea began to reflect on her father’s testimony (a delivered alcoholic),and
how he used to say he would rather have Jesus than all the gold and silver in the world.
Rhea wrote the words to ‘I Rather Have Jesus’ with that testimony in mind.
George Beverly Shea stumbled upon the song years later in its poem form and wrote music as we
now know it.
Mr.English takes this song, and without doing any injustice to it, sings a slight deviation
from the original melody line and it is just right!
Listen for example to my personal highlight of the song, it’s around the 1:56 mark where he
sings ‘I rather be faithful’.Why didn’t I think of that?

The title cut is a song most recently done by Montgomery Gentry, the country duo.
The song was written by Joe Neil Thrasher JR, son of Joe Thrasher who sang tenor with the
Gospel Quartet The Thrasher Brothers.
Michael’s approach is practically the same as the Montgomery Gentry version, Michael’s vocals
have less of a country twang, for me personally that is a tremendous plus.
The song obviously deals with the fact that people do change..nuff said! Great pick as the
title track.

Back in 1987 I bought my one and only 12′ inch single to this day, it was a song by George
Michael and ‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin.
The song was entitled ‘I Knew You Were Waiting’ and was a worldwide hit back in ’87. Michael
teamed up with Crystal Lewis to breathe new life in this song.
Michael once told the story that he was at a party, and he was flipping through TV channels,
and he stumbled upon this channel that had Crystal singing ‘I Rather Have Jesus’.
He stated that he could not make himself switching off the TV, or even flip on through. So you could say that Crystal Lewis was kind of instrumental in Michael’s
When I heard Crystal Lewis would be singing a duet with Michael on this record, I thought it
would be on Bev’s Shea’s classic song, which would have made sense given the personal history
Michael has with it.
But little did I know, and they choose this popular 80’s duet, and what a great surprise it
Lyrically this song not only does capture Michael’s journey to Grace,but sums up most of our personal journey’s too.
We all had a paralyzing moment at some point in our life, where we could not do anything but
sit still, and listen to God’s voice.
A moment that later proved to be a pivotal one, a turning point.

Here are the lyrics to the opening verse,

‘Like a warrior that fights
And wins the battle
I know the taste of victory
Though I went through some nights
Consumed by the battle
I was crippled emotionally
Ooh, somehow I made it through the heartache
Yes I did, I escaped
I found my way out of the darkness
I kept my faith
I kept my faith’

When Michael ends the first verse he repeats the line ‘I kept my faith’ in a manner
Aerosmith’s Steve Tyler would do, the first time I ever heard him do this thing.
Crystal and Michael voices are an excellent match.

This next song is probably my favorite entitled ‘That Great Day’, a song by the recently born
again blues singer/songwriter Jonny Lang.
I have a few albums by that guy, and he is one of my favorite artists right now.
What a fantastic job Michael did on this song, he sings high and has a beautiful edge to his
voice. The inclusion of a Fender Rhodes and soulful female singers on the track compliment
the modest and sincere quality of this song.

‘In Christ Alone’ follows the Jonny Lang tune, and I was kinda weary when I learned there
would be a remake on this album.
A remake of a Dove Award winning song, and on top of that, done by the same guy! The same guy? I think
not! I’m here to tell you that, some people do change!!! The lyrics have not changed, but the brother singing it has.
So almost 20 years later the song’s lyrical content is more potent than ever. It’s a humble anthem of
acknowledgement,  a declaration of independence through dependence for us all,  through Christ Alone.
Won’t go into what’s specifically different between the 90’s version musically, you will have
to hear it for yourself, but I was deeply stirred by it.

Howard, Sam, Rusty and Vestal Goodman were sure enough dancing and singing around the Throne
eternal when Michael recorded this one.
I picture Vestal smiling, running around all of Heaven shouting ‘that’s my boy’, ‘that’s
Michael! Every Saint and Angel present would nod in agreement saying ‘Yep that’s him! ‘That’s
Michael alright!
The cut ( I Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now) opens with an old recording by the Goodmans,then Michael shouts a countdown
‘two,three, four! And it’s rocking’ from here on out,
the transition to the modern-day version of this classic is spot on,done in great taste and with much vigor. Chip Davis, Jay Demarcus, Gaither Vocal Band and Gene McDonald provide the vocal backdrop.
The vocals arranged by Michael and Chip, and it shows, no one, other than those two have a better ear for this type of stuff.
His interpretation of this standard is so refreshing! The best version I ever heard!

‘Waking Up The Dawn’ opens with a melody that reminds me of the song by Michael Jackson ‘Will
You Be There’ that was on the soundtrack of the movie ‘Free Willy’.
This song by Jenny Lee Riddle, a Christian Dove-award winning singer/songwriter, best known
for penning “Revelation Song”.
Great song, and catchy melody, you will find yourself humming and singing along the chorus,
because it is so recognizable and it fits Michael like a glove.

The last song on the album entitled ‘Stubborn’ is penned by Brett James & Don Alan Schlitz JR.  Brett James wrote
Carrie Underwood’s no 1 hit ‘Jesus Take The Wheel’.
Multiple Grammy winner, Carolina native Donald Alan Shlitz JR wrote Kenny Rogers hit record
‘The Gambler’.
With writers that like sticking their heads together what can go wrong? When a writer uses
the word ‘molecule’in a song he is a hero in my book. ‘Stubborn’  though very
intimate in content, is the ultimate extrovert effort
of describing personal battles and what is needed to overcome them.

Bonus song is “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” written by Hank Williams, recorded for the movie ‘The Last Ride’ that Benjamin
Gaither produced. Michael’s voice paired with the acoustic guitar artistry of Kevin Williams, on such a haunting song is nothing short of

Concluding, this collection of songs is musically mature, beautiful produced and all
performances are stellar.
The overall lyrical content may seem kinda introspective of nature, but do not read too much
into that.
Not everything Michael sings was written just for him, if by chance it seems
like it was, it is probably written for you too.
If there’s one thing that is evident is that Michael never sounded more confident both
musically and spiritually.
Michael English is on top of his game again, he still got the powerhouse notes, but his
frail,soft and vulnerable sound is where his genius and brilliance really surfaces.
The songs are of a rare quality, the production by Jay Demarcus is remarkable. In such a way
that even banjos are suddenly sounding fresh and funky.
I never truly cared for the banjo, so my musical horizon has broadened some…and that is
what I always look for in a record. I love this album, there is not one song that made me wanna hit the skip button.

Back in the spring of this year Michael said the following about this solo album;
“I want to make sure people hear on this record that I have overcome these things, but not by my own doing. God is the one who has helped
me overcome them, my relationship with Him.
I can trust Him to help me through whatever comes.
It just so happens that He has let me come back and do what I love. It’s not easy,
because it takes me away from the people I love the most.
But I enjoy doing what I believe is God’s plan for my life.”

So what I’ve prominently heard in this album is a humble man, who happens to be one of the most gifted singers to ever grace a stage, who’s
grateful of the Grace that brought him back to that very stage!
I’ve heard Michael English himself on this album, and haven’t heard that in some time, now that may sound contradicting, considering he’s singing other people songs only.

The following quote by William Ralph Inge might better express what I’m really trying to say.

“A man is never so truly and intensely himself as when he is most possessed by God.

It is  impossible to say where, in the spiritual life, the human will leaves off

and Divine Grace begins.”

(Auke Bijlsma)