CD Review: Revival, by Karen Peck and New River

Revival--KPNR cover photoKaren Peck and New River is one of the hottest trios in Southern Gospel today. They typically offer a blend of traditional southern singing, country and pop. This release doesn’t deviate much from that template, but it is a tad more rootsy than usual for them. Let’s go to Likes and Dislikes for a closer look at the project.

Likes

*The production may not be bluegrass per se, but I enjoyed the frequent use of bluegrass textures in the production. It balanced out the squeaky clean, sanitized vocals (on which more anon).

*The title track/opener is not the song cut by Brian Free & Assurance on their latest, but rather a Little Big Town-flavored, country/rock tune. I like the edge on this one.

* “Finish Well” is a very well-crafted big ballad. I was especially impressed with the consistently strong lyrics. From start to finish, there’s not a weak link in this one. My only complaint is they should have saved it for the last.

* “Dancing Like Lazarus” is a wonderful surprise, lyrically and musically. The ideas are fresh and take you to unexpected places. Jeff Hawes explores his lower register to good effect.

*Overall, I was not hugely impressed with “You Did it Anyway,” but there are some very good lyrical and vocal moments. At his best, Hawes can evoke a somewhat countrified Wes Hampton.

* “Joy In My Heart” is a straight-ahead gospel fun ride. Sure to be a live favorite.

* “I’m Saved” is a simple but effective barn-burning closer, reminiscent of something the Perrys or Whisnants might record. It also shows (as if more proof were needed) that Karen can really belt out those high notes.

Dislikes

*This isn’t unique to KPNR, but the vocals were too compressed to my ears. When I listen to an older recording like “I Wanna Know How it Feels,” the vocals are much warmer by comparison with this, and I don’t think it’s just a lineup issue. It was especially odd-sounding on this recording since the production was so rich and rootsy.

* “Oh Hallelujah” has a promising banjo hook, but the bland, 80s-style BGVs and uninventive lyrics let the opportunity to make something interesting of it slip away.

* “Everybody’s Going Through Something” is a saccharine snooze-fest. The melody is relentlessly, determinedly dull, and what little insight the lyrics might have to offer is drowned in an ocean of syrup.

*Once again, Jeff Hawes’s vocal talents are under-utilized. This has been a problem ever since he came on board, and unfortunately this CD continues the trend. I count a grand total of two features for him, not counting the occasional one-verse step-out. Unleash the Hawes, Karen!

Final thoughts: This CD is good but could have been better. Several very strong songs and a fresh production sound still make it worth your while to check out.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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