Review: Gaither Vocal Band-Better Together.

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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…..it’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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trio’s a crowd #1

Southern Gospel music is originally built on 4 part harmony. 4 singers  a bass, baritone, lead (2nd tenor) and a first tenor! A quartet has that full sound,  a blend with a firm foundation.

All these guys sing different parts, all but one! In four-part harmony Continue reading

The oddball #2

From a vintage 1993 southern gospel album ‘Southern Classics’ comes the oddball in this blog..or should I say ‘Vlog? Does anyone still use that term?? Vlog….sounds kind of raunchy. Video-blog or vlog? I opt for video-blog for an apparent arguable reason. Back to the actual oddball…it’s a song from an album that is titled “Southern Classics”. A record of the world-renowned Gaither Vocal Band. A record that I regard as the ‘benchmark’ in the recent history of SGM. Why? Because it is not a tribute to classic Southern Gospel but an attribute…it added a legendary album to a genre that is on freaking life-support since The Imperials! This record set the bar…..it really did! The line up in ’93 was Bill on bass, Mark Lowry on baritone, Michael English on lead, and the magnificent Terry Franklin on tenor! Not gonna say anything on Michael because I don’t wanna sound like a teeny bopper! But man is he awesome on this album…enough already!!! I want to spotlight two guys, out of this line up. Bill being the backbone of this quartet, and Mark Lowry being the spinal chord…Mark  is what makes this body of voices function! Without Mark the baritone, it’s just two guys with amazing voices, and a big checkbook with fuzzy hair! Speaking of Bill, his bass is very underrated…and I don’t care if he is stacked to high heaven in live concerts, heck he might be the snappiest lip-syncher ever…I DON’T CARE! On this record he nailed it! But the absolute star on this here record is Terry (I hate you) Franklin!!! The best first tenor ever in the Vocal Band, and the best tenor in any quartet! If you don’t believe me, ask Glen Payne if you run into that fine gentleman up there, he’ll tell you the same thing! On this oddball Terry sings wonderful solo’s, with a rare kind of control, diction and amazing tone! Why is this an oddball? Well the title of the album suggest that all these songs are classic southern gospel songs. Songs like ‘I Bowed On My Knees’, ‘There is a River’ and other SGM favorites. Well those are on there, and this one is the only song on it, that breaks that mold. I don’t vividly remember who wrote it…but if memory is like the  friend he mostly is, I’d say that Terry and his lovely wife Barbi wrote it. But I could be wrong…hey give me a break! It’s not like I know everything!  I’m just human. Yes! just like you, a sinner saved by grace…‘put your hand down now, they might think you’re pentecostal! Amen!

Here’s the link to the oddball….enjoy! And really listen to these guys, and pick out each part…superb is the word you’re looking for.

So let’s dance, let’s dance…..tooooonniiiigghhhhhttt!!!

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

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“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!

Vintage1966

Of Barbarella, Quartets, Madness and Sir Cliff.

When I was 10 or 12..I loved music that was frowned upon by my peers. While they listened to bands like Duran Duran, I listened to The Delta Rhythm Boys, when they danced to the beat of The Simple Minds, I stood bewildered on the edge of the dance floor feeling superior to the musical simple minds in front of me. Who were frantically displaying how rhythm should not be displayed in public. Duran Duran…what kind of name is that?! What does it mean? Well I’ll fill you in on that later. When one of my classmates asked me what kind of music I listened to, I said…‘well….Duran Duran, Simple Minds,…you know?! Anybody who knew me back then, knew that I was pretty opinionated and outspoken! Well spoken some considered me as eloquent. Which says more about the IQ of my peers, than my linguistic artistry! Outspoken..my foot! Not on this topic I wasn’t!

I was ashamed of my musical taste back then, or maybe ashamed is not the word. But I just didn’t have the heart to tell them that Kenny Drew was a great jazz pianist. Seemed pretty pointless to explain to them who Lee Gaines was. Or talk about Leland Sklar’s genius bass playing, or how funky Steve Gadd’s grooves were. All the stuff they listened to, was overly synthesized and drum programmed! Of course there was the ironic possibility that all of the others were hiding their own musical taste aswell. Then again, sales figures of bands like Duran Duran went through the roof, so that’s pretty good evidence to proof the contrary.

Man I can see myself sitting up in my old room once again, listening to ‘Take The Chains From My Heart’ as sung by Ray Charles. Or scaring the wits out of an old out of tune guitar that I really didn’t play. I violated the darn thing! Playing along with Charlie Rich singing “I Do My Swinging at Home‘. Charlie Rich…that guy was awesome! The Silver Fox started out on Sun records as a Elvis on steroids. But when he was a few years into his career he developed into one of the most underrated artists ever! No one can touch Charlie when he sings a song like ‘Set Me Free‘. Charlie’s piano playing was a mix of gospel, jazz and country, he played it very well. There were a couple of groups I liked when I was a teen. I liked Spandau Ballet, that lead singer Mr.Tony Hadley had a great voice. Liked a group named ‘Madness‘ who had a hit with the title ‘Nightboat to Caïro’. I was also crazy about Billy Ocean’s voice, that sounded somewhat like Larnelle Harris’s voice. So? you guys ask, why didn’t you answer naming those contemporary artists while questioned by a moron? Well all those names were the ‘uncool’ performers of that time. We found common ground though, on one singer who we all thought was awful. His name Rick ‘the prick‘ Astley….he sang the horrible ‘Never Gonna Give You Up‘. That line came by so much, that you prayed ‘ I kinda wish he gave up’.

I promised to explain the name Duran Duran..here’s what I found on http://www.rateyourmusic.com;

‘Inspired by one of their favourite Birmingham clubs, Barbarella’s, the band took their name from the evil character “Dr. Durand Durand”, played by Milo O’Shea in Roger Vadim’s 1968 sexy science-fiction cult film Barbarella’.

Mmmh Jane Fonda yummy…we all agreed on miss Fonda too, but that’s another tune. You know irony is the hygiene of the mind Oscar Wilde said. Isn’t it ironic that today I actually like Duran Duran, and even the Simple Minds. I still hate Rick though…glad the record company finally gave up on him. One artist I still find hard to admit that I like is Sir Cliff Richard…..yes I know, I know, that’s indeed kind of sad…but hearing Cliff sing ‘True love ways’ with the London Philharmonic is just fabulous.

I loved Elvis Presley too..man did I ever! Loved Bill Haley, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee and Carl Perkins too. But Elvis was the man! Elvis turned me on to gospel quartets! I loved those background voices better than Elvis. Ate up all ooohs and aaahhs by The Imperials. Every ’56 ending by J.D! The gospel albums of Elvis….wow! The ‘He Touched Me’ album is the best. Never heard a better rendition of the Ralph Carmichael song ‘Reach Out to Jesus’.

I started to buy gospel quartet music where ever I was. Still kept listening to soul, jazz, country, blues, bluegrass and classical, but quartets are still my main thing. You name it and I listened to it, Cathedrals, Statesmen, Couriers, Singing Americans, Weatherfords,Rebels, Melody Masters, Swanee River Boys, Vanguards, Downings, Oak Ridge, Imperials, Blackwoods, Stamps, and many more.

Thank God for Gaither…he put me on to a lot of these groups. And thank Al Gore for the internet! All the info on the net is awesome! I love the details, credits, who played on what album? Who sang the baritone in what year in a certain quartet. Who replaced who on a part, what is counterpoint singing? part swapping? or coming in on the fly! I love the history and the heritage. I love the tight-knit gospel singing community, or the thought of it. Loved how Glen loved George! How J.D. loved his wife. How Gerald Wolfe sang ‘Magnify Him‘, and how Michael English broke into ‘He’s Still Working On Me’. How Vestal Goodman practically hijacked a mic on an early Gaither video to sing;

‘A country where no twilight shadows deepen
Unending day where night will never be
A city where no storm clouds ever gather
This is just what Heaven means to me’.

I love the music that I love, and I know for a fact that the people who I met in real life and who are artists themselves, are genuine, normal, cool, and just like us all. If someone asks me today what music that I like, I say ‘Gospel’ and they immediately will break into ‘Oh Happy Day‘.,,and then walk off laughing…shoutin’ ‘hallelujah‘ while they distance themselves from me. I answer that with a loud ‘amen‘. As I said, or implied before, don’t talk about perfect pitch to the tone-deaf! They won’t hear you!

Auke