CD Review: Love Won, by the Talleys

Love Won is the first album for the Talleys as a quartet with the new addition of Lauren’s husband, tenor Brian Alvey. It serves up a generous thirteen cuts, a mix of new and old. The title catches the attention right away—possibly an intentional reference (response?) to Rob Bell’s controversial Love Wins? In any event, most of the songs are lyrically built around God’s plan of salvation, touching on themes of healing, redemption, forgiveness, and re-creation. Some of them are among the Talleys’ best new songs in recent memory.

Track-by-Track

1. We Want to Thank You (Brian Alvey): This jazzy croon-fest is fairly unremarkable as a song, but it provides a nice vehicle for the Talleys’ lush harmonies and a smooth mood-setter for the album.

2. Love Won (Belinda Cox, Jason Cox, Kenna Turner West): The title track briskly kicks off with an intro borrowed from a classical piece. So here I am thinking, “Hey, this’ll be fun, sort of a ‘Sing Your Praise to the Lord’ type thing.” But then it just trails off, and suddenly the energy is all gone. The song clearly wants to be a mini-epic, but it takes its time to get going. Once it does, it’s awkwardly inter-cut with more attempted “classical” hat-tips (acapella “Allelujas” and such). The result is an odd stylistic hybrid that tries valiantly but just doesn’t hang together that well. Props for creativity, but see the aforementioned “Sing Your Praise to the Lord” for an example of how to do this sort of thing more cohesively.

3. Make Way for the Master (Brian Alvey): Exciting fare reminiscent of “He Saw it All” (though the lyrics aren’t quite as clever and memorable). Others have compared it to the Talleys’ own hit “The Healer.” I can definitely hear the resemblance, but I actually prefer this song. The melody is more interesting, and the lyrics are better-crafted. It would make an excellent radio single. Brian Alvey anchors it, and there is some fine harmonizing going on, particular at the end. I also liked the arrangement of strings pulsing in triplets over the 4/4 beat.

4. Broken World (Bev Herrema, Sean Smith, Terry Wilkins): This song naturally complements another big hit for the Talleys, “The Broken Ones.” Once again, I find myself liking the new song better than the old hit. It’s just a little deeper, a little more thoughtfully crafted. Verses provide story-song-like glimpses into scenes of brokenness, which are answered by a strong, hopeful chorus. “We’re living in a broken world, but not for long… no, not for long.” Some listeners might be surprised to know that Debra is actually not singing on this song—it features the trio blend of Lauren, Brian and Roger. (They also utilized this combination on “Every Scar,” “Up Above” and “Love Covers All.”)

5. Every Scar (Lee Black, Gina Boe, Jerry Salley): This beautiful song got some attention last year when it was recorded by husband-and-wife Christian bluegrass duo Darin and Brooke Aldridge. Roger Talley gets the feature. I like this version, but I prefer the original. It would have been a stronger cover had it been turned over to one of the other vocalists. But perhaps they felt Lauren, Debra and Brian were getting enough features already.

6. Talk to the Lord About It (Rebecca Peck, Kenna Turner West): I’m a sucker for smart, snappy up-tempo fare like this. It’s got a rock-solid groove, sort of like “Let’s Talk About Jesus” with a little more kick. And a B-3 Hammond. Say no more. This one’s a keeper. Vocally, it has a light touch with the trio of Lauren, Debra and Brian.

7. Up Above (Rebecca Peck): Thematically returning to “Broken World” territory, this is another classy Brian feature. It has a contemporary feel, not unlike something BFA might record. Sort of like an adult contemporary answer to “Farther Along.” My favorite moment is hearing Lauren and Brian trade off on the bridge, singing the exact same bit of melody in the exact same octave.

8. Surely (Daryl Williams): This Gold City cover is pure hand-clapping fun, classic country/gospel style. It’s funny to hear Lauren take the lead, because her vocal similarity to Brian Free gives you a good sense of what the song might have sounded like had the Free incarnation of Gold City recorded it. The production is a satisfying, piping hot blend of B-3 Hammond, electric guitar, piano, and even some tasty mandolin chiming in on the bridge (which also features an awesome vocal breakdown). I wanted to hear more piano improvisation, but we can’t have everything. (Lyrical quibble: The word “trod” is misused, but you’re already used to that if you listen to Southern Gospel—I’m looking at you, Dottie Rambo.)

9. Great Love He Gave (Paula Stefanovich): Debra Talley reminds her listeners what a lovely quality she has to her voice as she takes the lead on the first verse. After a key change, Lauren takes over, at which point it changes key yet again for a borrowed hymn bridge (“He arose, he arose…”), and things get very exciting very quickly. The lead switches to Brian for the final chorus and ends on a climactic high note. I would rank this cut among the best on the album, but there’s just one annoying issue: There’s a section of spoken word narration from Debra between the first and second verses. I’m sorry, but unless your name is George or J. D., I simply have no toleration for spoken word narration in the middle of a song, particularly in the studio. It breaks up the flow and distracts from the song, and that’s especially annoying in cases like this where the song is excellent.

10. The Church Will Overcome (Dianne Wilkinson): You heard a taste of this new Dianne Wilkinson tune in some behind the scenes footage. Brian Alvey is really allowed to cut loose and show his chops on this one, and with rock-solid piano/organ/guitar backup, it’s tremendous fun to listen to. The only thing is, it sounds almost exactly like “Singing in the Midnight Hour,” another fresh tune from Miss Dianne recently recorded by Signature Sound. But I loved that song too, so I don’t really mind having a clone of it. This is easily one of my top three picks from the album.

11. How Deep the Father’s Love For Us (Stuart Townend)Like “In Christ Alone” and other songs in the Getty/Townend catalogue, this song has a pleasant tune that could quickly become tiresome if sung or arranged poorly.  Fortunately, this cut is not lacking in either the vocals or arrangement department. It starts off with a pleasing Celtic sound—ethereal wash, solemn, tapping drums, vocal “ooooos,” etc. Roger sings the first half of verse one, then Brian and Lauren sing the second half as a duet. I just can’t get over how nice they sound together. More “oooos” lead into a key change, and that’s when the arrangement really gets going. The blend is excellent, with Brian taking the lead. Then the production pulls back as Debra sings the first line of verse three, but it returns and moves up another key for the rest of the verse three. It builds to a high point as Brian soars on the melody, then eases back down, finishing off with a final, lovely round of “ooooos.” The strength of the arrangement makes this an easy standout cut.

12. That’s Why I Love Him So (Brian Alvey, Gary Casto): This was formerly recorded by Tribute Quartet, so naturally it’s a Brian feature. It’s  another showcase for the smooth, tender side of his voice. I listened to his performance on this song just after listening to some David Archuleta, and it occurred to me that their voice qualities are very similar. That pure, clean quality is what most attracts me to a tenor.

13. Love Covers All (Marty Funderburk, John Lemonis, Kenna Turner West): This may be Lauren Talley’s most tender, aesthetically pleasing vocal performance. Her voice is often criticized for being overly nasal/metallic, but here she shows that it’s really quite a beautiful instrument, particularly on the chorus. This is also a beautiful melody that sings well. However, while the lyrics say nothing false, they quietly push an agenda of “non-judgmentalism” that I’ve seen in many shapes and forms. It’s easy for naive Christians to adopt it without realizing where it could lead the Church if taken to its logical extreme. However, these particular lyrics benefit from a sharpened focus on circumstances where the sinner has genuinely repented and sought forgiveness. This helps to avoid the implication that we should extend our welcome to unrepentant wolves who actually intend to harm the Church. Then again, it seems as though fewer people are even thinking through that distinction these days anyway. So perhaps it’s a coincidence, albeit a lucky one.

Concluding thoughts: Many of us were eagerly anticipating what Brian Alvey would bring to the group. If more proof were needed after seeing him at NQC and other live venues, this album proves that he has become one of their greatest assets. Lauren was already a power-house front-man for the group, but combining her talents with Brian’s has taken them to a new vocal level. The quartet blend maintains the Talleys’ signature contemporary flair while still remaining warm and accessible to southern fans.

This should also hold up as one of the strongest projects of the year in terms of song selection. Though the number of cuts could have been trimmed down a bit to make a tighter album, it’s a consistently good listening experience, with solid arrangements and musicianship throughout. All this adds up to an album that I predict will stand out from the 2012 SG pack when year-end recaps start rolling in. Here’s hoping the Talleys can outdo themselves yet again on their next project!

Prime cuts: “Make Way For the Master,” “Broken World,” “The Church Will Overcome,” “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us”

Rating: 4.5 stars

Purchase the album here.

Visit the Talleys’ website here.

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