The Collingsworth Family has been turning heads in the industry over the past few years, and with good reason. They’ve cultivated an incredible blend which has only become stronger and fuller as the four kids grow and develop. Add to that Mrs. Collingsworth’s virtuoso piano playing, as well as the older girls’ prowess on the violins, and you have what may be the most musically talented group in southern gospel. I was privileged to see them live in concert last year, and I can tell you that if they are ever in your area, it’s a show you don’t want to miss. (Oh yes, and Mr. Collingsworth plays trumpet too.)
Part of the Family is their StowTown Records debut, and it’s arguably their most mature project yet. Their sound has always been primarily a blend of gospel and old-fashioned inspo, with dashes of country and jazz, and this album continues in that vein. Wayne Haun is at the production helm as usual, contributing his arranging talents and a couple of new songs.
1. God’s Family (Lanny Wolfe): The CD begins appropriately with the song from which its title is taken. Lanny Wolfe’s material always fits the Collingsworths like a glove. (I’m still waiting for them to discover “The Sounds of His Coming,” which is one of his lesser-known pieces but in my opinion his best.) The lyrics and music are somewhat schmaltzy, of course, but the Collingsworth Family has a way of taking these kinds of songs and delivering them in a fresh, un-schmaltzy way. It’s sure to be a concert favorite.
2. Tell the Mountain (Kenna West/Lee Black/Sue Smith): This new mountain-flavored ballad is one of the best cuts on the project. Phil Jr. takes the lead, and it showcases how much his voice has matured even in the past couple of years. A few other people have already made comparisons to Doug Anderson on this number, and I definitely hear that resemblance as well (pay special attention to the line “God is with you, and you’ll overcome” — the way he holds out “overcome” sounds exactly like Doug). I would say that he’s developing into a light baritone. Much like Anderson, he has resonance in his lower register, yet also has a flexible upper range. As for the song, it’s a very uplifting message of encouragement for people who are dealing with struggles in their lives. It reminds us that whatever the “mountain” is, and however big it is, and whatever it tries to tell us, we’ve got something to tell back to it: Our God is even bigger.
3. Joy Unspeakable (Caleb Collins/Wayne Haun): This has a similar feel to “Bottom of the Barrel” from The Answer. It’s a vigorous, up-tempo country/jazz number (listen for some great keyboard work). The Collingsworths always do this sound very well. I could see this song working as a concert opener to get the crowd good and warmed up.
4. Jesus is All I Need (Marty Millikin): This is a mellow Kim Collingsworth feature. Lyrically very predictable, but very comforting and easy to listen to.
5. Nothing’s Worrying Me (Jerry Kelso/Marty Funderburk): Think of this as the bluesy, easy-listening jazz counter-part to “I Know” from The Answer. I personally love this style, and eldest daughter Brooklyn handles it with a smooth class that’s hard to resist. While references to the bad economy peg the lyric as modern, the music has a deliberately old-fashioned feel. It actually sounds like the kind of thing Ernie Haase & Signature Sound might sing.
6. I Pray (Lyn Rowell/Wendy Wills): This new offering from the authors of “Jesus is Holding My Hand” features Olivia, the youngest at 13. Her voice is still developing, yet she already shows great promise. She has a sweet tone and sings low notes with great clarity. If you compare her voice with clips of big sister Courtney at the same age, the resemblance is very striking (so don’t be surprised if she turns out to be a Courtney clone when she’s done growing). I really like the laid-back feel of the arrangement. It’s a simple song, simply accompanied with acoustic guitar. A very good way to introduce small children to the power of prayer… and remind the grownups who may have forgotten.
7. At Calvary: Kevin Williams and his friends recorded an instrumental version of this hymn last year that was so creative and incredible it made me wonder if I’d ever appreciate a normal rendition of it again. But the Collingsworths won me over right away with their characteristically powerful, dynamic arrangement. Much like “I Want a Principle Within” from the last project, it takes the listener on a journey, changing keys multiple times and featuring multiple vocal combinations. I especially enjoyed the ladies’ trio on verse two and the sibling trio featuring Phil Jr. on verse three—more proof that Phil Jr. has become quite capable of pulling his weight in a dramatic piece.
8. I Found it All (Helga Kaefer/Wayne Haun): This is one of my favorite new songs on the project. It’s, like, sooooo Wayne Haun. The chorus goes like this:
I found it all
When I lost everything
And gave my life
To serve a risen King.
I found the truth
That I’d been looking for.
I found it all
When I found the Lord.
Middle sister Courtney takes the lead and delivers a pure, honest vocal. My only nit-pick is that I think the production could have been scaled back a bit and actually made it even more powerful. But no matter. It’s a sweet cut. If anybody remembers the old AC Christian radio hit “Can’t Live a Day Without You,” this is thematically a little like that, except better-written, and without the pop bombast.
9. Just Another Rainy Day (Cindi Ballard/Daryl Williams): If I’m not mistaken, this features the sibling trio of Brooklyn, Courtney and Phil Jr. It’s a hand-clapping, foot-stomping, house-bringer-downer (is that a word?) I’ll eat my hat if that’s not Gordon Mote on keys, and there’s all kinds of fun stuff going on with the B-3 Hammond (you’ll remember that’s my weak spot), the guitar, and the bass. And the lyrics contain great wisdom: “If God says ‘Build an ark,’ it won’t be just another rainy day!” Believe it or not, think Brian Free & Assurance on this one. It’s got that same kind of slightly progressive drive to it. Expect them to encore this at least twice in concert.
10. Praise You (Bill & Gloria Gaither): Brooklyn takes the lead on this low-key Gaither cover. The instrumentation is very similar to the GVB version of “Home Where I Belong.” I felt like I had heard the song somewhere before, then I remembered it was one of two unreleased Vocal Band tunes Wes Hampton recently shared that had been on the table for the last lineup but never got put on a project of theirs. I love the way Wes sings it in that clip, but I think it fits the Collingsworths even better. We’re treated to a great duet between Brooklyn and Phil Jr., as well as some work from the ladies’ trio and the Phil Sr., Kim and Brooklyn trio.
11. That’s the Place I’m Longing To Go (Robert Batton): Like “I Can Pray,” this song relies on an acoustic backdrop. It’s carried very tastefully by guitar and mandolin, and it’s a beautiful project highlight. You’d never know it was a new song unless you looked at the date. It sounds like it could have been around for decades. With vivid imagery, it evokes a picture of heaven as a place where nobody is orphaned, hungry, or mourning for the dead.
Where no tears will ever fall, where death angels never call
Where the crepe never hangs on the door,
Where the hungry never cry, where we’ll never wave goodbye,
That’s the place my soul is longing for.
12. The Resurrection Morn (Bill & Gloria Gaither): Bringing things to a majestic close is this old Gaither piece. I believe they themselves have done better with this theme on a piece like “These Are They,” but hey, it’s Bill and Gloria, and it’s the Collingsworths. Hard to nit-pick.
Closing thoughts: Although the Collingsworths’ sound is better than ever, this project doesn’t take too many liberties from a creative standpoint. As a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist who dislikes change, I’m not really complaining. Grandma’s apple pie never gets old, even though she uses the same recipe every Christmas…because it’s Grandma’s apple pie! The same is true of the Collingsworths—who would even want them to change?
From a song selection standpoint, there’s honestly nothing here that really leaps out at me, even though there’s nothing I dislike either. It’s simply a very good, enjoyable, consistent listen. The new material is very solid, but I still don’t think they’ve found that one Hit with a capital “H.” As for how it compares with The Answer, I would probably still cite that project as my favorite because the songs were a little stronger/more memorable, but this one is tighter and more cohesive as a whole.
The production is quality as always, and they continue to show themselves wonderfully adept at a variety of sounds. This may be the first project I’ve heard of theirs where certain songs actually remind me strongly of another group (like Signature Sound on “Nothing’s Worrying Me” or BFA on “Just Another Rainy Day”). They are in expert hands with Wayne Haun, and he always brings the best out of them. I’ll never forget the chance I had to chat with him a bit at my first southern gospel concert last year (seriously, it was like meeting the President or something—actually, just kidding, that’s an insult to Wayne). Anyway, I had just recently listened to The Answer, and I told him that I loved the way he let the family be themselves, yet complemented and supported them perfectly for what they were doing. He does the same here. I especially liked the more stripped-down feel on several of these numbers, because it really allows their full talent to shine. It makes me wonder what an entirely acoustic (or even acapella) Collingsworth project might sound like.
Bottom line: The bottom line is that if you’re a Collingsworth Family fan, you should buy this project. And if you’re an SG fan who hasn’t heard of this group… you are seriously deprived, and you should buy this project.
StowTown, you’re three for three—first the George Younce project, then Doug Anderson’s debut, now this. Keep going.
Review copy provided.