Into His Presence is the Perrys’ debut effort with Wayne Haun and Ernie Haase’s new label Stowtown Records. It’s also their first offering of new music since Tracy Stuffle’s stroke now over a year ago January and the subsequent departure of lead singer Joseph Habedank. However, David Ragan has been proving that he is more than capable of picking up where Joseph left off. His resonant, expansive voice is the glue that holds this new lineup together. To me, he and David Mann are cut from the same cloth (speaking of, sympathetic shout-out and best wishes to Mann, who just came off the road after discovering that his throat had been invaded by mold spores!) Tracy’s son Jared, who has an agreeably smooth low tone, is filling in on most of the bass singing for now, although Tracy makes one special guest appearance. Below the fold are my comments on this new project.
*Although most of the tracks are new, the Johnny Minick-penned “How Long,” which meditates poignantly on the story of Job, is the perfect fit for baritone Bryan Walker’s voice and a perfect lyrical choice to capture what the group has been through.
*The slight feeling of exhaustion in Libbi Stuffle’s delivery lends added poignancy to songs like “I Can Trust Him” and “Reminders.” Their lyrics are simple, yet heart-tugging. From “Reminders”:
They’re just reminders to other weary souls
That whatever life may bring, God is in control.
These scars are not a picture of the pain that I’ve walked through.
They’re just reminders of what God can do…
From “I Can Trust Him”:
I have walked into a room so full of sorrow
And saw the desperate faces on the ground.
And they looked at me through eyes so full of pity,
But through joyous faith, I sang these words out loud
I can trust him…
*Joel Lindsey’s contribution “Lord, I’m Thankful” is lyrically reminiscent of Karen Peck & New River’s “Dancing Like Lazarus” in the chorus. The structure is “I’m thankful like [biblical character], after [short phrase describing pivotal happening to said character].” Compare with “I’m singing like the blind man when he got his sight that day, laughing like Jairus watching his little girl run and play, shouting like Peter when he came from the empty grave, etc…” It’s an effective formula. The verses are exceptionally well-written. This passage in verse two has a nice nod to “It Is Well With My Soul” and gets an extra musical lift as the song changes key unexpectedly:
All the sins of my past were a thundering roar
That echoed the guilt that I could not ignore
But it’s nailed to the cross, and I hear it no more
And I’m thankful…
I liked the fact that while the song is in 6/8, the firm walking pace laid down by the guitar can trick the ear into thinking the song is in simple time.
*The country-flavored foot-stomper “Sooner Than Later” is the perfect blend of honky-tonk piano, funky electric pickin’, and Bryan’s smooth country instrument wrapping itself around a catchy tune.
*When the track “I Owe Him Everything” started up, I thought “Have I heard this somewhere before?” But no, it’s copyright 2014 by Lyn Rowell (co-author of Doug Anderson’s old hit “Jesus is Holding My Hand”). Lyrically and musically, it just has such a timeless quality to it, reminiscent of Rusty Goodman’s “Who Am I?” or “Sinner Saved By Grace.”
*The closing track “Privilege of Prayer” is the closest this album comes to offering a new signature song for Libbi. Penned by Rachael McCutcheon, this Hammond-pervaded slice of gospel swing is another new track with a vintage sound.
*To use a hymn bridge or not to use a hymn bridge? That is always the question, and in the case of “I Can Trust Him,” other bits of the original lyrics stand out so much that falling back on “Tis So Sweet to Trust In Jesus” half-way through is slightly anti-climactic.
*Only this triplet in the chorus of “Lord, I’m Thankful” sticks out like a sore thumb amidst an otherwise stellar text:
Thankful like Noah, back on dry ground
Thankful like Lazarus, finally unwound
Every beat of my heart wants to pound
It starts off okay but weakens as the available number of words ending in “-ound” decreases. Granted, not many words do end in “-ound.” That’s a hint that maybe a different ending altogether is the way to go.
*To continue the nit-picking, at the very end of “I Owe Him Everything,” the singers repeat the phrase “owe him everything” twice for the final tag. Something about the way “owe him” sings just sounds a bit off and clunky at that moment. I’m not a producer, but I think it would have sounded smoother to have them just repeat the word “everything.”
*It’s hard to critique the track “Three Men On a Mountain,” since it features Tracy himself carrying the melody throughout (with a little bit of assistance from Jared). It sounds like Wayne and Joel might even have tailored the simple melody to fit his enfeebled voice. If so, kudos to them, because that’s both classy and tricky to do. At the same time, in all honesty this probably isn’t a track I’ll revisit too often. Perhaps Tracy could have been given one or two step-outs instead of carrying the entire song.
*On the whole, the ballads tended to be more lyrically than musically memorable.
As Daniel Mount noted in his review, this album may strike long-time Perrys fans as a more subdued collection of songs than usual. But listening to the common theme running through all of them, of perseverance and grace through trials, of strength to carry on despite what life throws our way, I believe that this was the perfect album for the Perrys to release at this point in their career. This is the calm after the storm for them. It’s a good time to reflect, to take stock of how God has brought them safe thus far. So for those expecting a fresh crop of roof-raising power anthems and barn-burners, this may not be the album you were expecting. But the understated power of the lyrics will reward careful listeners with every replay.
Prime cuts: “Lord, I’m Thankful,” “Sooner Than Later,” “I Owe Him Everything,” “Privilege of Prayer”
CD rating: 4 stars
Review copy provided. A positive review was not required.