The Old Paths Quartet may not be a household name even among fans of southern gospel music, but they have built a reputation as one of the most consistent groups in the industry. Last year, they garnered some well-deserved extra attention with their big ballad “Long Live the King.” With Stay, available today, they offer the same solid vocals their fans have come to expect, paired with new songs mostly penned by Dianne Wilkinson and Rebecca Peck. Click below the fold for my thoughts.
* “You Never Cease to Amaze Me” reminds you that Jeremy Peace can be quite silky smooth when he’s not screaming. (Not that I’m necessarily anti-screaming. Screaming has its place.) At his best, he’s like a warmer, less metallic Brian Free. Which I mean in a good way! I like Brian Free too! I’m not putting this very well, am I? What I’m trying to say is that I really dig this song, and I really dig Jeremy’s tones on it. Maybe I should just leave it at that.
*Everything Dianne Wilkinson and/or Rebecca Peck touches turns to gold, but then that isn’t news to anyone who’s been reading songwriter credits for a little while. “How Great The Debt” is their latest carefully crafted big ballad. The arrangement plugs in an obvious hymn bridge, and I think an ending that pulled back instead of going for an overblown high finish would have been more effective, but the writing is great.
* Here are a couple more good lines from these ladies’ cuts on the album. From “Washed In the Blood”: “It takes more than a little sincerity, ’cause you can be sincerely wrong.” From “Just Can’t Get Over”: “I just can’t get over my sins being over since I have been under the blood.”
*I’ll get to Rebecca’s solo contribution in a sec, but Dianne’s solo contribution “What Do They Call Him?” is classic up-tempo Dianne worth an honorable mention.
*Keith Waggoner over on Musicscribe already singled out “What a Happy Morning” as a favorite for its Cajun flavor, and I agree! Bass Daniel Ashmore sounds fantastic on it, and I love that Jew’s harp.
*Remember when I said earlier that screaming has its place? Well, Jeremy does some of that on closing track “Out of the Grave,” and it totally works, mate. And there’s an electric guitar too. They’ve chosen this for their first single, which may provoke a couple of “letters.” Well, I don’t know if they would count one from me going, “Duuuude! Do a Journey cover on the next album!” But that would be my letter, if I wrote one. For nerds who need to know, Jeremy hits a B flat 5 on this one.
*I don’t hate the opening track, it’s cute and laid-back and all, but I wish SG could do away with opening filler songs as a thing. I know they need an icebreaker for live concerts, but on a CD, I’m just not going to spin it more than once.
* There’s a frustrating pattern developing in the albums I review. More than once now, a song I really like musically turns out to be a dud lyric at the same time. “Stay” is that song for this album, and it’s the title track too. It’s a great tune and a beautiful lead vocal from Tim Rackley (really, just gorgeous—reminded me why I love his voice so much), but oh boy, these lyrics. Okay, so it’s about the relationship between Jesus and the apostle John. We know from Scripture that John was “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and this song earnestly attempts to capture the tenderness of that special relationship. I have no problem with that idea in the abstract. However, the fact is that deep masculine affection is a tricky thing to encapsulate. It requires a deft touch. Unfortunately, this song is anything but deft. The lyrics almost infantilize the apostle John:
Why don’t you stay?
I’m not used to you being away
But by my side, that makes it okay
I’ll love and adore you more and more every day
Why don’t you stay?
The second verse/chorus then switches to Jesus’ voice, paraphrasing his assurance that “I am with you always.” This verse is better, but the hook still lands with a clunkity-clunk: “I’m gonna stay. Don’t get used to me being away. Right by your side, that makes it okay…” Then, even stranger, “I’ll love and adore you more and more every today.” I get it, same words, different meaning, but still, Jesus “adoring” us? Yes, parallels are awesome, but only when they work. Then the last verse makes a sudden, awkward segue to the singer’s voice, where the chorus now refers to his getting to heaven and telling Jesus, “I’m gonna stay” (in heaven, presumably). As a last line, it throws in, “Will you stay?” Wait… who’s “you?” Jesus, again? Or maybe the audience? As in, “Will you stay in heaven?” As opposed to what, visiting for the summer?
Okay, okay, I’ll stop now. By the way, neither Dianne Wilkinson nor Rebecca Peck were involved in the writing of this particular song.
* I like the lyrical concept of “Ordinary People,” but the way the melody draws out poetically awkward words like “ordinary” and “specializes” is like nails on chalkboard. (Again, not a Wilkinson/Peck contribution.)
*Daniel Ashmore has a lot of talent, but it sounded like “Washed in the Blood” was pitched in a range that made the melody line a little hard to discern when he sang it. “What a Happy Morning” is a better showcase of what he can do.
*Their prodigiously talented piano player, 16-year-old Josh Townsend, is featured prominently on the front cover. But he doesn’t get a chance to play any keys on the album! Those of us who’ve heard his live playing know what he can do. I would have liked to hear that on the record.
Conclusion: Some weak writing and production keep this project from being a “Must Buy,” but it’s a perfectly solid SG record from a quartet that deserves more attention, in my opinion anyway. I was frankly puzzled that Musiscribe’s thoughtful group review, which by no means trashed the album but simply came to the same conclusion that it’s not capital “G” great, was pounced on as a hatchet job. Let me get on a little soapbox here: As music reviewers, we get requests to give feedback on lots of albums each year. We like some better than others, but we do look for a certain “X” factor before handing out 5-star reviews. But that doesn’t mean we hate albums we rate below perfect! And it certainly has nothing to do with personal animus towards the group members or a desire to “question their integrity.” Good grief!
So, in sum, this is a good project! Go listen to samples on iTunes and buy it if you like it! I’m giving my opinion because I got the album for free in exchange for giving it. It’s as simple as that.
Rating: 3.5 stars