The southern gospel world was first introduced to the Garms family through this video of their youngest child, Caleb, with Legacy Five. 7-year-old Caleb stole the show with his easy charm and stage presence, making a couple members of the group uneasy about being able to keep their jobs in the long run (particularly Glen Dustin, when it was revealed that Caleb aspires to be a bass!)
Some time later, the entire Garms family became contributors to southerngospelblog.com, and their posts have become regular high points. When I discovered they were a traveling gospel band, I checked out the sneak peek of their debut album and was delighted at what I heard. They graciously provided a review copy at my request, and today I bring you my thoughts on this fresh project from the Great Adventure Gospel Band.
The CD was independently produced with technical mastering and mixing handled by Ben (age 20), the acknowledged techno-whiz of the family. Ben also provided all the guitar work (acoustic and electric), as well as some banjo and electric bass. Vocalists include Mom (Kris) and Dad (David), Ben, Taylor (age 19), Leesha (age 16), Sam (age 11), Jayme (age 9), and of course Caleb (age 7). Mandolin is provided by Taylor (with some contributions from Uli, another sister who doesn’t tour with the band), dobro by Leesha, piano by Kris and Taylor, violin by Jayme and Taylor, harmonica by David, and percussion by David and Sam. A few songs are completely handled by the female trio of Kris, Taylor, and Leesha, while others are completely handled by the trio of “Little Adventurers” (Sam, Jayme and Caleb).
The style ranges from straight-up southern gospel to bluegrass to folk. Here are some highlights:
“Leaning On the Everlasting Arms”: This features the female trio, who offer a very refreshing vocal blend and put a few twists on this familiar hymn. Leesha sings lead and sounds mature for her sixteen years, Taylor sings high harmony, and Kris sings alto. Ben provides some exceptionally smooth bass support as well. Perhaps this is a good indication of what Caleb will sound like in fifteen years or so!
“Wonderful Time Up There”: This is a father/son duet between David and Ben with backup from “the girls.” David sings the lead, but Ben really steals the show as we get to see his bass singing in full action on the familiar classic. He’s probably the family’s most polished singer at the moment. Kris also shines on piano. Really fun stuff, and it’s almost over too soon.
“Were You There”: Everybody shines on this folk-flavored arrangement of the dramatic spiritual. Ben’s haunting acoustic guitar provides the backbone for the instrumentation, but 9-year-old Jayme also plays an impressive, Celtic-sounding lead violin, with Taylor playing harmony violin. The little ones sing the first verse very movingly, Taylor sings a poignant solo on verse two, the female trio handles verse three, and the whole family sings the triumphant final verse. One minor quibble: My understanding is that the final verse changes the “it causes me to tremble” line to “I feel like shouting glory.” Here, it’s “tremble” all the way through.
We’re treated to some extra violin interplay as the arrangement closes. This cut is a major standout for sure. Great harmonies and production.
“Poor Wayfaring Stranger”: This is the most pure folk cut on the whole album, sung by the female trio. Their vocals here have that raw, hard-to-describe feeling that’s characteristic to folk music. It’s like something from the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack—unpolished, untouched, and appealing for precisely that reason. Definitely not a southern gospel sound, so it might have to grow a little on those who are unused to folk/bluegrass. But I think it fits the mood of the song perfectly. There’s an extra bit to the arrangement at the end which sounds pretty cool, with some ethereal effects added to the ladies’ voices. However, the sudden New Age feel does seem to clash musically with the earthiness of the rest of the arrangement. It’s a neat sound, just a slightly odd genre shift.
“Beautiful/Beautiful Savior Medley”: The female trio sings the first song in the medley, alternating between unison and harmony. Harmonizing with each other seems to bring out the best in their voices, and they do some of their best singing on this cut. The family resemblance among their voices is very strong. Then “Beautiful Savior” is sung by the whole family in simple, lovely acapella to finish the disc.
Also worth mentioning is that one song on here was written by a little adventurer! Jayme Garms is apparently a budding songwriter as well as singer/musician, and she wrote “I Need You Lord” when she was only seven. The song might not seem particularly remarkable by itself, but when the age of the author is taken into consideration, it’s rather impressive. A very simple, jangly folk tune, it follows a lyrical progression obviously inspired by Pilgrim’s Progress, as the singer asks for help to remove his burden, is told to go to the cross, and finds it taken off there. It will be interesting to watch as Jayme’s writing talents continue to mature. Other songs include “Lord I Want to Thank You,” “Bigger Than Any Mountain” (sung by the Little Adventurers), “He’s Still Working On Me” (ditto, and a great one to play for little kids), and “Power In the Blood.”
Southern gospel fans will definitely find much to enjoy in the song selection, even though some of the songs and arrangements sound more bluegrass/folk than gospel. It’s also worth checking out for its impressive production values. Even though it was mixed in a home studio, this does not sound like a cheap, shoestring project. And of course, fans of family harmony will be charmed by the range of ages represented here. Even the younger kids already have a striking grasp of harmony and blend. Their youthful contributions make this project especially appropriate for families with small children. But it truly is a CD for all ages. Definitely recommended. Hear clips and buy it here.