Of the elite tenors in southern gospel today, David Phelps is one name you will hear constantly placed above all the rest. For many, he is the standard by which all other tenor singers are measured.
I have to admit that I’m not one of the many. Which is by no means to say that he is not talented. I think if you’re going to talk about pure technical ability, Phelps deserves the top spot. However, a combination of factors makes me favor other tenors more.
[Note: If you are a raving “Phan,” you should probably stop reading here… unless you’re curious…]
Okay, so first of all, I’ve never gone for the limp ringlets look. Second, I can only tolerate breathy singing, from anyone, in small doses. Third, constant theatrical gestures/affectations are intensely annoying and distract from any real talent you may have, for anyone. Finally, Phelps seems unable to pick one style and stick with it. He insists on taking a lot of pop, some classical, and a little gospel… and mashing it all together with a big flourish (phlourish?), which impresses some people but leaves me wishing he’d make up his mind. It’s not his talent I dispute, it’s the effectiveness of the way he uses it.
Wow, that was a lot to get off my chest. 🙂 Still with me? Good, because today I’m posting what I regard as his finest performance: “O Holy Night.” I’ve always liked this performance because he pretty much just belts it out the way you’re supposed to without adding a whole bunch of breathy frills. He also keeps the gestures pretty minimal, and he sings it like he means it. And on top of all that, he has a normal haircut. (Coincidence? I think not.)
Lots of high notes here, with great tone and control. And having Anthony Burger on piano sure doesn’t hurt. (Plus, don’t you just love George sitting with his mouth open right behind Phelps? Priceless.) For me, “O Holy Night” is one of those songs that’s supposed to be bombastic, a show piece where you pull out all the stops. There’s no question David was born to sing it.