You might know that the Akins are one of my favorite groups in southern gospel today. I’ve raved a bit about them before, but I think if I could boil it down to one word, it would be “musicianship.” They’re completely self-taught, yet they play, sing, and write all of their own material and give completely live concerts. They make it all look deceptively easy, but it takes a special talent to wear that many hats and produce quality work. The Akins do it with style. For this entry in “Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World,” I picked country band Diamond Rio to spar with the Akins. The two bands have similar country-rooted styles with a rocky kick. Both bands are also accomplished jammers, and to top it off, both bands specialize in rich vocal harmonies.
Diamond Rio enjoyed huge mainstream success throughout the 90s, but with surprise hit “In God We Still Trust,” they gained fans in the Christian market as well. They’ve dipped their toe in a variety of musical styles, mixing in everything from pop to bluegrass, but all with the signature tight blend of lead singer Marty Roe, baritone Dana Williams, and tenor Gene Johnson. One of their best albums and one of my favorite Christmas projects is The Star Still Shines, which shows off all their talents across a great cross-section of music (my review here).
To be fair, I’ll try to compare like and like tracks from both artists. Unfortunately, I can’t find studio versions of the Akins’ acapella arrangements on Youtube. Fortunately, there are a couple of good live videos out there. When it comes to instrumental/jamming skill, I would say Diamond Rio’s greater experience tips in their favor. Their licks are simply more varied and advanced. However, I think the Akins can give them a run for their money in the acapella department. And when you consider that I’m comparing a group of seasoned veterans with a band of 20-something youngsters at all, the Akins’ relative skill and polish becomes even more impressive.
I’ll start with live video performances. First, here’s the Akins’ kickin’ version of “I’ll Fly Away,” together with their instrumental version of “Nothing But the Blood.”
And here’s a less well-shot video of Diamond Rio, but one that still has good audio: a hugely entertaining medley of three rock songs with a bluegrass spin. You’ve never heard “Carry On Wayward Son” or “Born to Be Wild” played like this before!
Next, acapella. Here’s Diamond Rio’s take on “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
Now, I really wish I could put up the Akins’ studio version of “He Looked Beyond My Fault” to compare with this, but I haven’t obtained permission to upload it myself, and nobody else has done so yet. I may come back and edit this later, but for now, I think this rehearsal clip is, if anything, even more impressive, since it was done all in one take with no possible chance for finetuning.
For a taste of what the Akins can cook up in the studio, here’s a sampler for their latest project, Vintage, available from iTunes and from their website.
And Christmas isn’t coming, but I really don’t care, because this instrumental on Diamond Rio’s Christmas album is just so stinkin’ awesome.
What do you think? Would you like to see an Akins/Diamond Rio double billing? At the very least, I think it would be a stroke of genius to have the Akins be an opening act.