This hymns project is a parting gift from the last Gaither Vocal Band lineup of Michael English, Mark Lowry, David Phelps, and Wes Hampton. Nearly all the tracks are fresh, with a couple exceptions that I’ll detail in the Likes and Dislikes. So, let’s get right to it!
*Although “Amazing Grace” recycles some arrangement ideas from the Amazing Grace Homecoming project (minor modulation on verse three, orchestral rhythm on verse four, etc.), I greatly enjoyed the dramatic Celtic twist they put on it. It led to some very cool harmonic choices, like the perfect fifth on the word “begun” at the end. Also loved the pennywhistle doing a few bars of “Come Thou Fount” as the song drew to a close. Although guys, really, you’re not Irish and we can kinda tell, so lose the fake lilt-warble on verse one if you ever do it live, m’kay?
* “Redeemed” was another successful Celtic-tinged arrangement. The blend of strings, accordion and pipes creates an exciting, toe-tapping rhythm. The familiar hymn tune has been somewhat re-worked for this arrangement, but it works quite well. Vocally, David Phelps’s pure tone particularly shines in this context and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did the arrangement.
* “My Faith Still Holds” packs much more oomph with this lineup than it did when initially recorded on New Point of View. (Both track and vocals are new.) They have much more freedom to do descants and what-not with the two tenors. Launching right into the chorus from note one sets a great tone for this arrangement. Wes Hampton also gets a very nice solo on verse one.
*I was impressed by the lush harmonies on the climax of “Lord, I’m Coming Home.”
* “Til the Storm Passes By” builds to a great finish after Wes Hampton gets to show off his glory notes on the final verse.
*That moment on “Old Rugged Cross” when Wes Hampton takes the melody up an octave. My goosies have goosies!
*Too much sameness in tempo. Out of twelve tracks, a grand total of two are up-beat (“Redeemed” and “I’ll Fly Away”). The rest, by and large, are very slow, drawn-out affairs. A couple manage to put enough twists on the arrangement to keep it interesting (e.g. “Amazing Grace”), but taking the disc as a whole, the pacing really drags. I would have loved to hear them interpret some more vigorous hymn tunes like “Power in the Blood,” “Come Thou Fount” or “And Can It Be.”
*Too many Michael English features. I know, perhaps I’m biased because I think English’s voice is best enjoyed in small doses, but the assignment of step-outs was definitely tilted heavily in his favor. Without belaboring the point, I’ll just say that this didn’t help all the arrangements equally well.
*Why recycle an old track for “I’ll Fly Away” instead of taking the opportunity to do something different with it?
*Why re-record “At the Cross” at all, when a) Guy Penrod already sang the snot out of it seventeen years ago, and b) David Phelps already did his own thing with it when this particular lineup was first formed? I know Bill likes to recycle old GVB chestnuts with new lineups, but recycling it twice with the same lineup?
Bottom Line: This album contains some quality material, but the song choices, arrangements and vocals all combined for a somewhat less exciting end product than I’ve come to demand from the GVB. However, we now have a brand new lineup and a new chapter in the group’s history to look forward to. Perhaps it was time to turn the page, but this pleasant offering should tide us over until we have a new recording of entirely fresh songs. It receives 3.5 stars.