CD Review: Vintage, by the Akins

The Akins, Vintage album cover

The Akins are some of my favorite artists in southern gospel. Their freshness, natural musicianship and contagious enthusiasm always lift my spirits. However, their country-rock flair is a tad edgier than most fans of southern gospel may be used to, so they’ve been quietly flying under the radar for a while. However, their music definitely deserves a closer look. (Pssssst, hey Ernie/Stowtown…?) This table project finds them tackling some old standards with vim and vigor. The production credits are simple: recorded, sung, mixed, and mastered by the Akins. Lucas Vaughn is the only outside contributor, playing drums. The result sounds very organic and cohesive. 

Pros

*The retro album design may somewhat belie the innovative spirit of the music it contains, but I think it looks classy. I like the way the photo is purposely a bit faded and the the CD looks like a record with scratches on it.

* “Revive Us Again” is a rockin’, syncopated take on the old standard. It will certainly “revive” you if you need a little kick-start in your morning!

* “Nothing But the Blood” is a wonderful slow jam session, with excellent shredding guitar solo work from brother Eli. It stands out because of its dynamic variety—where most of the other arrangements are played and sung at one level all the way through, this one rises and falls as the spirit of the band leads.

*The piano-driven power ballad “Arise My Love” was a bold choice, but the Akins pull it off beautifully with their pitch-perfect harmonies and passionate delivery.

*Even southern gospel productions can fall into the trap of over-compression, but the Akins’ sound is the exact opposite. It’s rougher around the edges, but it’s pure and warm, and my ears like that sound better.

*The Akins prove that they can put away their instruments and sing pure acappella harmony on “He Looked Beyond My Fault” and “Sweet, Sweet Spirit.” These numbers reminds me of Diamond Rio’s acappella work. “He Looked Beyond My Fault” is especially impressive. Really good stuff. Color me impressed. Here is a live version:

Cons

*Straight-ahead, driving country/gospel is the Akins’ trademark sound, which is part of their charm. However, their up-tempo tracks can bleed together a bit, and even the ballads could sometimes benefit from a lighter touch. For example, while I love their choice to cover “Go Rest High On That Mountain” (hey, when a song is the best of its genre, I don’t blame everyone for wanting to cover it), it really didn’t need drums at all. It would have been more effective if they had turned the dial down a couple notches and just let the other instruments breathe. I would recommend doing it this way live, or at least holding the drums back until later in the song.

*Though they lack formal training, the Akins are rock-solid country singers with excellent ears, as evidenced by their ability to handle intricate harmony on the acappella numbers. However, I worry a bit about Nick and David’s belting technique (Eli mostly sings in head voice for the high harmony, so this doesn’t apply as much to him). It’s very clean-cut, which I appreciate, but Nick in particular always sounds like he’s straining his throat when he lunges for a note. 15, 20 years down the line, his vocal cords might not be so flexible and cooperative. It might be worth exploring some less stressful vocal techniques.

*Although unlike some people, I’m fine with Chris Tomlin’s additional chorus to “Amazing Grace,” I do find it a little bit sad that his version’s popularity seems to have outstripped that of the original hymn in many circles. For one thing, it’s much less rhythmically interesting. I can’t fault the Akins’ cover of his version, but I would have preferred to see them play around and see what creative things they could do with the hymn in its classic form.

*Does it count as a “Con” that I wanted to hear more than just a 30-second chorus interlude of their acappella/handclapping “There is Power In the Blood”?

Final thoughts: If you have yet to introduce yourself to the Akins, you’re missing out! They’re doing a great job keeping this music alive and deserve your attention. Check out full live performances on their Youtube channel and get thee to their website, where you can purchase this project.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Review copy provided. A positive review was not required.

For a taste of what you can expect to hear on this album, here is their opening track “Revive Us Again,” together with some “making of” footage. I love how expressionlessly David is chewing his gum while laying down a keyboard track.

 

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