The Erwins are the latest signees of Ernie Haase and Wayne Haun’s Stowtown Records venture. Ranging in age from 14 to 22, this fresh-faced foursome has been making some waves in the southern gospel world of late. I will admit that when I first saw the brothers alone in a showcase slot at NQC a few years back, I thought they were fine, but they didn’t seem like wave-makers to me at the time. Well, with some time to polish their craft and with the addition of baby sis Katie, they are now turning more heads, including mine. Add some memorable new songs and the sure-handed production of Wayne Haun to the mix, and the Erwins are Ready to Sail.
* Besides being generally adorable, 14-year-old Katie can really sing. She has perfect pitch and a very consistent sound across her range, which isn’t easy to maintain. Boys, keep little sister around!
* Speaking of Katie, her main feature is “I Choose to Be a Christian.” This is one of the two best songs on the album, both penned by a writer named Rachel McCutcheon. To hear such youthful voices delivering a message of such sturdy conviction is most heartening.
* The centerpiece of the album is the other McCutcheon contribution, “Calvary’s One Spotless Lamb.” For a young group to get a brand-new, instant classic big ballad right out of the gate is a wonderful gift. Just to put things in perspective, the Collingsworth family hasn’t had a new song this strong in years. Any heavy-weight group would be glad to have this feather in their cap, only the Erwins got there first.
* “Well Done” is the strongest up-tempo track. The sweeping orchestration and march-like tune recall classic standards like the Cathedrals’ “Bloodwashed Band.”
* “Greater” is a cover of MercyMe’s “imitating OneRepublic imitating Mumford & Sons” moment. The Erwins’ vocals are sweeter and more natural, and the production as a whole has much less of the dance influence of the original. It’s a catchy, fast-paced tune that pleasantly rides the current nu-folk wave.
* I enjoyed hearing Ernie Haase pop in for a guest vocal on the finger-snapper “Take Him at His Word.” His voice blends with young Katie’s very charmingly.
* “The Burden of Loving Me” is a great lyrical hook. The rest of the song didn’t quite rise to the same level, but I just love that hook.
* This isn’t so much a dislike as a practical critique, but as a vocal ensemble, the Erwins are greater than the sum of their parts. Individual step-outs are smooth and show promise, but they lack a certain oomph (this is my technical term, and I’m sticking to it). Some runs land more confidently than others, Kody sometimes has trouble hanging onto the tone for his low-low notes, and Keith’s high notes could use more power. And while Katie is very impressive for her age, better breath control would give her tone more richness and depth. The good news is that all of this can only improve with continued vocal maturity and experience.
* I thought “You Are Welcome Here” was a rather dull melody when I heard Ernie Haase & Signature Sound do it with Wayne Haun, and my opinion hasn’t changed. The message is laudable, but it doesn’t leave a lasting musical impression.
*I was very impressed by the Erwins’ acappella number at NQC last year and would have liked to hear them take at least one track to treat us to their voices alone.
Final thoughts: The Erwins have everything going for them at this stage in their young careers. They already have a polished blend and are surrounded by great talent-nurturing folks. Thanks to Ernie and Wayne for planting yet another seed in the soil of southern gospel’s future.
CD rating: 4.5 stars
Review copy provided. A positive review was not required.