From Southern Gospel’s most popular trio comes their first major release in several years. While this album isn’t available at digital outlets like Amazon or iTunes, the balance of original to cover material qualifies it as more than a table project. (Pick up your own copy at their website here.) It also offers listeners a first look at new baritone singer Paul Lancaster since long-time member Jim Brady took his leave. So without further ado, let’s see what I thought of it!
* Paul Lancaster gets a really nice feature on Wayne Watson cover “Touch of the Master’s Hand.” He sounds very smooth and comfortable on this number, and it’s a good cover choice too. My only criticism is that they tried to make the climax really dramatic, but the production was a little overpowering. Odd trivia tidbit: I knew the text was old, but not being familiar with the melody’s provenance, I asked Wayne Watson at a concert whether he had written it himself. He told me yes, he was the one who wrote the melody for the old poem… except it was actually not Wayne who wrote it but a guy named John Kramp! Weird, huh?
*I’d heard Gordon Mote’s version of “Down By the River,” but the Booths successfully put their own creative touches on this arrangement. It’s a great song either way, and it reminds you how well the Brothers can handle a country rock tune.
* “Dirt On My Hands” is a Jim Brady/Woody Wright co-write that takes an honest look at how much we’re willing to put ourselves out on behalf of a friend in need. It’s an understatedly convicting lyric and another nice throwback to the Brothers’ more country work.
* “Wildflower” is yet another winner from the pen of Rebecca Peck, dedicated to Michael’s wife Vicki. It makes me wonder whether the lyrics actually tell some of her life story. The song is about a girl who grows up a child of divorce and has difficulty accepting the idea that God could love her. This will definitely hit hard for anyone who’s met damaged young women like this. The wildflower is a metaphor for the lonely souls that God must roam afield to gather in. A very movingly written and sung lyric.
* The quiet, contemplative “Still” is bittersweet, because it’s the last song Jim Brady wrote and performed live with the group before taking his leave, and it’s the song they used to close the last concert where I caught the three of them together. But it was a fitting note for him to go out on.
*As far as I’m concerned, Wes Hampton has the definitive cut of “Jesus Saves,” but it’s a really well-written worship tune no matter who sings it. Paul Lancaster is given the lead, and while it sounds like he’s still finding his feet vocally on the verses, he hits his stride when he begins hitting higher notes. This fits with what Michael told me the last time we spoke, which is that Paul actually has a freaky range in the vein of a Michael English-style lead.
* “Whenever I Speak His Name” is a light-weight blast from Russ Taff-era Imperials past. But what made the original version work was that uber-mellow, uber-80s smooth funk sound. This version is way too produced, from the insistent strings to the fatiguingly heavy beat. If the drums on this arrangement were like a smear of fresh watercolor paint on a canvas, I’d be compelled to grab a sponge and start blotting the extra away.
* “I Am the Word,” one of Lari Goss’s last productions, is a massively orchestrated epic that sounds like a holdover from Declaration. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it feels somewhat out of place here. It’s awkwardly sandwiched between the laid-back country flavor of “Dirt On My Hands” and the ballad “Touch of the Master’s Hand.” Definitely one of those “better live” numbers, preferably preceded by a stirring exposition of Scripture as Michael Booth waves his Bible around and becomes progressively more excited with those intro strings ramping up behind him.
* Speaking of “better live,” the arrangement for “Happy Rhythm” tries for an elaborate big band treatment, and well, as one of my sisters put it, “They sound like they’re pretending to be the Andrews Sisters.” I actually rather liked the arrangement, but then I couldn’t stop giggling through the rest of it, because it’s kind of true! In truth, I’m sure it will be great fun in concert, but I’ll stick with the classic quartet version for now.
*I like the front cover art, but I’m not sure what the photographer was going for on the back cover. It’s begging for a “Create Your Own Caption” contest. Especially cringeworthy is the fact that Ronnie looks for all the world like he’s holding a cigarette (it’s actually just a card tucked in Paul’s pocket, at an unfortunate angle to Ronnie’s hand in the foreground). Here’s my submission:
Ronnie: “So as I was saying, it’s not personal Michael, it’s strictly business.”
Paul: “No, no, no, no, no, please no, please, not old so-and-so!”
Michael: “Ronnie. Ronnie. The police are coming, Ronnie.”
Final thoughts: This album doesn’t sound quite sure of what it wants to be. The end result may not be the Brothers’ smoothest or most cohesive listening experience, but it does yield some stand-out moments. Newcomer Lancaster shows promise and will undoubtedly carve out his niche more authoritatively as the group acquires more material to suit his style. Until then, new Booth Brothers music is always welcome.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Review copy provided. A positive review was not required.