CD Review: A Cappella, by The Martins

The Martins Acappella cover

It’s been too long since we had some new pure acappella music from the Martins. Now, perfectly timed in the year that I plan to see them live for the first time, this album grants all our wishes! With Lari Goss, Michael English, and David Phelps all sticking their fingers in the pie, it’s a glorious return to the sound that first put the Martins on the map. 

Likes

*The album’s centerpiece is David Phelps’s epic arrangement of “Fairest Lord Jesus,” which I had never thought could be epic until now. It builds and builds through layers of modulation and shifting dynamics to a rousing chorale finish. Although it’s a daunting arrangement to consider performing outside the studio, the Martins have already begun staging it live!

*The family throws in a little Caribbean swagger with a medley of Randy Stonehill’s 80s smash “Shut De Do” and Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.”  They also take us to church on “If We Ever Needed the Lord Before.”

*As part of the album’s diverse stylistic sweep, they offer a haunting take on the high church communion hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” My only complaint is that they do only two verses of it! Maybe the verse saying “He will give to all the faithful his own self for heavenly food” was a little too high-church for comfort. 🙂

*Though I have a specific criticism of how they open “Come Thou Fount” under Dislikes, it’s lyrically clever to put it in a medley with “Fill My Cup” and “Spirit of the Living God” and musically woven together seamlessly.

*Michael English’s fingerprints are all over the Dixie Hummingbirds/Levon Helm cover “When I Go Away.” This bluesy “new standard” could easily have worked for the Gaither Vocal Band, but I enjoy the Martins’ stripped-down treatment, which is no less musically rich for being acappella. It’s my favorite version so far.

Dislikes

* “Come Thou Fount,” while titled correctly, inexplicably opens instead with the erroneous first line “Come thy fount of every blessing.” Obviously this wording makes no sense, as God is the fount of every blessing in the original lyric, whom we’re directly addressing with the request to come tune our hearts for His praise. Hopefully this will be fixed live.

*I don’t hate “The Prayer,” but I’m reaching a point of burnout on it, because it’s just been done to death, even already within southern gospel (David Phelps & Lauren Talley, Collingsworths instrumental). Of course, the Martins do a beautiful job, but I’m not sure the world needed yet another cover of this particular pop standard.

*Ditto on “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” No complaints about the arrangement, just tired of the song.

*At $15 plus S + H for a physical copy, the project is priced a tad high for 28 minutes of music.

Bottom line: Making old songs sound new is never easy, but the Martins and their star rotation of producers have done it again, with grace and style. At the same time, this is not just a hymns project, as it smartly blends in a few new songs that sound old. The end result is a feast for the ears that will keep the attention of the most restless listener. A Cappella sounds good to me.

Rating: 4.5 stars

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