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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Old man river (the old story)

Why is it that I’ve always loved old stuff? Old cars, old music, old furniture, and old architecture. When I was about 8 or 9 I got interested in music…after a got my first record by The Delta Rhythm Boys I was hooked on jazz, quartet singing and voices in general.

After the smooth and intricate harmonies of ‘The Delta’s’ I got into Bill Haley! Bill Haley and his Comets! I had that live album…that had a version of “Love Letters in the Sand”….that was marvelous!

I also had a gospel album by Jim Reeves entitled “We Thank Thee”. I love Gentleman Jim…still do…his smooth, no frills, nothing fancy approach to singing has a soothing quality to it! My favorite song that he did was “The Nightwatch”.

 I bought a compilation album on a budget label that had all kind of different artists on it. People like Owen Bradley, The Kalin Twins, and Buddy Holly. The latter I loved…one of the few R&R poets! “It’s too late, she is gone” I loved that tune!

I’ve always been a ballad guy, don’t get me wrong, I love uptempo too…but I always sit up when a slow song comes on! If you never heard “Blues Stay Away From Me” by Gene Vincent you haven’t been livin’. Gene Vincent was as rock and roll, as rock and roll could possibly be. That cat had it going…..love Gene!

Of course Elvis came along…I had to see what the fuzz was all about! My first Elvis record was “Elvis Golden Gospel Songs”. First time I heard “He Touched Me”, first I heard the Imperials sing!

Elvis got me into Southern Gospel….into the Quartets! My first gospel album was a Imperials album….it was 1981 by then, and the group had some personnel changes from when they sang with Elvis. I rushed to my room, got the record out, and onto the player…. I almost slammed it on that mother. Those few seconds of scratchy silence before the first song comes on…the anticipation…then suddenly Disco came pounding through the speakers

“Closer Than Ever”…I was shocked! Didn’t like it one bit! Brother! Those guys are total sell outs I thought! Abandoning real quartet singing, why?!  But I played it forever…and kinda wore myself out really, so my narrow-mindedness caved in…and decided I liked it! I own every record by the Imperials from 1964 to 1984! One of the best things to ever come out of gospel music was and is Russ Taff! Loved Russ with the Imperials loved that tune “Whenever Is Speak His Name” 

I love Russ voice and spirit…a real good guy! Russ influenced me greatly…not that it helped much…but he made me reach for the stars! And for that I am grateful. Another guy that influenced my singing was a guy named Tony Hadley! He sang with Spandau Ballet…a british band from the eighties. 

Another group I really digged in the eighties were The Housemartins…who did a cappella stuff..and gospel tinged pop! Their lead singer had a distinct voice…love how he sings “Lean On Me”.

As the years rolled on…I grew to love that ‘modern’ music! It’s not that I don’t like any ‘new’ music…man I do…but it’s all current bands playing new music with that good old feeling! The feeling Ray Charles, Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons, Sam Cooke, Charlie Rich, Jerry Lee Lewis, Larry Norman and Kenny Drew give me! 

It’s funny I hate old people, old food, old coffee, old matresses, and old what have you not! But I love my old car, my old music, and the old, old story! 

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

Unarmed

“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 playwright, 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 continuous saying, ‘that it’s supposed to renew our perception’.

So it doesn’t necessarily changes our perception,what we really appreciate right now, we’ll probably like for years to come, but in its historical context, yours and the world’s. Your taste in music for instance can change overnight though, through associations with bad situations, bad people, or your ears certainly recognizing that it was really shitty music to begin with. Your perception was pure, and pristine to begin with and uniquely yours! But as with all things, it requires maintenance! Through the years the artistic receptors in your brain got cluttered with too much junk, or creative clutter. Since I don’t like the combination of the words creative and clutter, because real creativity is never clutter, I’ll put ‘pseudo‘ in front of the word ‘creative’.  So that’s Pseudo Creative Clutter!

Speaking of such! A lot of the music cranked out in the Southern Gospel music scene is nothing more than the same old same old….clutter…..it really is. Music today in general is almost reduced to wall of sound, with less melody, lyrical content and more bpm’s(beats per minute), except of course in P&W (Praise & Worship) music, that’s all about no beat per minute. On the other hand, P&W scores big in the less lyrical content, less melody departments. In SGM it’s all about who wins the (some say fixed) Dove awards, fixed or not, those awards are really awards for being the most ridiculously predictable. And of course’s singing SGM is apparently the best job not to retire from. Because you probably didn’t make enough money singing for decades, and you simply can’t. Unless you’re Bill Gaither who made tons of money, and still keeps on, keeping on.

The creative impasse in SGM, in my opinion has to do with a media conglomerate. Media conglomerates strive for policies that facilitate their control of the markets around the world.There’s a media conglomerate active in SGM today (Gaither). One I believe keeps a lot of old folks in the business, and leaves the much desired young guns out of it. I love SGM’s heritage, don’t get me wrong!  I appreciate the some of wonderful things the conglomerate brought us. God know’s that at that time SGM needed a bit more professionalism!

But with professionalism came big money, and it is followed by the word exclusive. ‘Exclusive‘ translates to excluding everyone who is a potential threat to your media-empire. That’s what it is, hate to pop your spiritual bubble, but it is not only run as an empire…it is an empire…with a emperor! Who runs it like an empire. I know, I know…you gotta make money to fund your overhead, all in order to preach the Word…right? Amen brother, amen! Each nite you get up there and sing, and maybe occasionally even a classic like ‘He Will Provide’, but really don’t have the faith that He actually will. That’s why less of y’all will take a ‘love offering’. It’s obvious that revival doesn’t last a life time….otherwise there wouldn’t be use for a word such as ‘revival’.

Some of you might say, what is your beef with SGM? Nothing! Got no beef, other than that it’s all about playing safe…lyrically, musically and creatively ..and safe gets corny, cliché fast. It’s the same stuff over and over…you name it! It’s stacks, tracks, and polo’s with slacks. Secular music at least tolerates a ‘alternative scene! Some produce the most inspiring unique artists! That’s what in SGM circles is referred to as ‘locals’ and ‘amateurs, and the consumers/buyers won’t give em the light of day because the pro’s say they are. “Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other culturesCesar Chavez once said. The ‘industry‘ isn’t preserving SGM, it’s protecting it in a fierce manner. No strangers (aliens) allowed, unless they are granted a safe passage from the emperor himself.

Bill Gaither (bless his heart) has become the Bob Ross of SGM, painting the same corny thing every time. It’s one reproduction after another. And as all art appreciating snobs know, is that a repro is for the (creatively) poor. If you can’t afford a Van Gogh, don’t be hanging fakes on your wall. Art collectors are greedy for great art, and not great names. I’m a collector, not a buyer! I’ll gladly hand over a thousand dollars, in exchange for a true work of art, it will last me a life time. But I refuse to spare you a dime for a ‘knock off’...then regret will probably haunt me for that same life span. “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”. That’s what Marten Luther, theologian and blatant anti-Semite said. Being wrong about one thing doesn’t disqualify the essence of that quote. Let me conclude with a quote that describes accurately what the situation in SGM today is like, here’s what Mr. Machiavelli said;

“Hence it comes about that all armed Prophets have been victorious, and all unarmed Prophets have been destroyed’. 

Vintage1966

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

onmyown

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