Wilburn and Wilburn made some waves when they came on the gospel music scene a couple years ago. Son Jordan’s youthful drive and talent combined with Jonathan’s boundless energy and soul created an exciting sound. Their official debut Family Ties was filled with stellar cuts like “A Cross Became My Saving Grace,” “Devil Be Gone” and “You’ll Still Be There,” garnering critical acclaim all ’round (including 5 stars from yours truly). Now they have an album of new material to share with the world of gospel music. Here is my review of this sophomore effort.
*”Funeral Plans,” a Pentecostal barn-burner, is a perfect vehicle for Jonathan Wilburn to show off his white boy soul. (Though I found the original and noticed that they changed the line “When I die, let me die speaking in tongues” to “Let me die praising the Lord” — modified for Baptist listeners!) Its spirit and intensity recalls Signature Sound’s version of “Get Away Jordan.” For my money, it’s the best track on the album.
* “Every Scar” has become a bit of a new standard. Originally recorded by Brooke and Darin Aldridge, it was picked up by the Talleys not long ago and now the Wilburns have added it to their catalogue. This shows off the gentle country side to Jonathan’s voice. While I think I still like the Aldridge’s recording best, the song is so strong that it’s an album highlight.
* “If These Old Walls Could Talk” is a fresh, sprightly new tune from Dianne Wilkinson and Jerry Salley. It treads the familiar “going back to the little old country church” territory, but the verses take it to a deeper level of specificity. Each little story is like a locket photo—a whole lifetime summed up in one image.
*I’m always a sucker for songs about heaven with B-3 Hammond and gospel choir, so needless to say Jonathan’s take on “I’m Bound For That City” gives me THAT fix.
* “A Man Like Me,” surprise choice for the album’s first single, is a thoughtful co-write by Dianne Wilkinson and Jimmy Yeary. It’s very simple, but just like “If These Old Walls,” it’s the vividness of each little verbal image that makes it stand out.
* “Joseph” may not be the instant classic that “Mary Did You Know” has become, but it’s a good “did you know” song for Joseph that compares favorably with “Strange Way to Save the World.” I also enjoyed hearing both Jonathan and Jordan singing on the same song and even harmonizing a bit (which they’ve never done enough of in my opinion).
*Speaking of which, this is a gripe several of us who’ve been fans of Wilburn & Wilburn have had for a while. We think the blend Jonathan and Jordan have together needs to be exploited much more often. As it is, they frequently alternate solo features, and when there are harmonies, they bring in other vocalists to fill out the sound. I understand that it’s hard to create a completely satisfying harmony with two voices alone, and of course all the guest/background vocalists always do a great job. But I really enjoy hearing those few moments when it’s stripped down to Jonathan and Jordan alone.
*”Nobody Like Jesus” has a great hook, but not much else. That one hook is repeated quite a bit, and I wanted a little more to flesh the song out better.
*Several of the songs have strong choruses but suffer from slow, weak verses (title track, “Help Me,” “Everything’s New”). In each case, it sounds like the writers had one really good idea (the chorus) but then had to force the rest of the song. As a writer, I can sympathize with the age-old problem of building the rest of your song around that one bit of inspiration so that the whole thing sounds fresh, but honestly some of these songs needed to be revised so that the verses didn’t just sound like musical placeholders.
*The closer “Across the Miles” is sweet but forgettable.
Final thoughts: Wilburn & Wilburn’s mainline debut was so strong that it made it difficult for them to top. This project is hardly a sophomore slump, but it still fails to reach that high benchmark. While the songs are solid, the CD just doesn’t leave as memorable of an impression taken as a whole. However, that doesn’t stop it from being an easy 4-star project.
Review copy provided. A positive review was not required.