CD Review: Hymns, by the Gaither Vocal Band

CD Review: Hymns, by the Gaither Vocal Band March 18, 2014

This hymns project is a parting gift from the last Gaither Vocal Band lineup of Michael English, Mark Lowry, David Phelps, and Wes Hampton. Nearly all the tracks are fresh, with a couple exceptions that I’ll detail in the Likes and Dislikes. So, let’s get right to it!
*Although “Amazing Grace” recycles some arrangement ideas from the Amazing Grace Homecoming project (minor modulation on verse three, orchestral rhythm on verse four, etc.), I greatly enjoyed the dramatic Celtic twist they put on it. It led to some very cool harmonic choices, like the perfect fifth on the word “begun” at the end. Also loved the pennywhistle doing a few bars of “Come Thou Fount” as the song drew to a close. Although guys, really, you’re not Irish and we can kinda tell, so lose the fake lilt-warble on verse one if you ever do it live, m’kay? * “Redeemed” was another successful Celtic-tinged arrangement. The blend of strings, accordion and pipes creates an exciting, toe-tapping rhythm. The familiar hymn tune has been somewhat re-worked for this arrangement, but it works quite well. Vocally, David Phelps’s pure tone particularly shines in this context and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did the arrangement.

* “My Faith Still Holds” packs much more oomph with this lineup than it did when initially recorded on New Point of View. (Both track and vocals are new.) They have much more freedom to do descants and what-not with the two tenors. Launching right into the chorus from note one  sets a great tone for this arrangement. Wes Hampton also gets a very nice solo on verse one.
*I was impressed by the lush harmonies on the climax of “Lord, I’m Coming Home.”
* “Til the Storm Passes By” builds to a great finish after Wes Hampton gets to show off his glory notes on the final verse.
*That moment on “Old Rugged Cross” when Wes Hampton takes the melody up an octave. My goosies have goosies!
*Too much sameness in tempo. Out of twelve tracks, a grand total of two are up-beat (“Redeemed” and “I’ll Fly Away”). The rest, by and large, are very slow, drawn-out affairs. A couple manage to put enough twists on the arrangement to keep it interesting (e.g. “Amazing Grace”), but taking the disc as a whole, the pacing really drags. I would have loved to hear them interpret some more vigorous hymn tunes like “Power in the Blood,” “Come Thou Fount” or “And Can It Be.”
*Too many Michael English features. I know, perhaps I’m biased because I think English’s voice is best enjoyed in small doses, but the assignment of step-outs was definitely tilted heavily in his favor. Without belaboring the point, I’ll just say that this didn’t help all the arrangements equally well.
*Why recycle an old track for “I’ll Fly Away” instead of taking the opportunity to do something different with it?
*Why re-record “At the Cross” at all, when a) Guy Penrod already sang the snot out of it seventeen years ago, and b) David Phelps already did his own thing with it when this particular lineup was first formed? I know Bill likes to recycle old GVB chestnuts with new lineups, but recycling it twice with the same lineup?
Bottom Line: This album contains some quality material, but the song choices, arrangements and vocals all combined for a somewhat less exciting  end product than I’ve come to demand from the GVB. However, we now have a brand new lineup and a new chapter in the group’s history to look forward to. Perhaps it was time to turn the page, but this pleasant offering should tide us over until we have a new recording of entirely fresh songs. It receives 3.5 stars.

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  • Saved Girl

    It looks like Youtube did some cleaning since you posted this. The videos are blocked.

  • Well, that sure was quick! “Amazing Grace” is still up though. I’ve removed the others for now and will see if I can replace them later.

  • Lydia

    I thought that was a southern accent on vs. 1 of “Amazing Grace,” not an attempted Irish warble. But I probably wouldn’t know an Irish warble if I heard one. I agree, that’s a great arrangement of “Amazing Grace.”
    Had to go and hear Guy Penrod “sing the snot out of” “At the Cross.” He really does! I believe the (now much older) Guy has yet another arrangement of it on his own hymns CD.

  • I believe they’re going for a nasally “Irish tenors” sound, which is slightly folksy, hence the resemblance to something Southern. But if you listen to the vocal yodel or “warble” on “saved,” that’s the Celtic flair.
    BTW, I’ve now embedded a replacement vid for “Til the Storm Passes By.” Quick, before the copyright police find that one too! (Be it known that *I* am not the uploader of any of these videos!)

  • I think that Bill may have put more songs on this project that featured the departing(ed) members as this was the last opportunity to hear them as part of this current line-up.
    I also feel that the lack of up-tempo songs is also as a result of picking songs that featured Mike and Mark.
    I say this for two reasons, firstly if you pre-ordered the project from you received two instant downloads of “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” So they obviously recorded at least those two songs.
    Secondly, I vaguely recall Wes Hampton saying they recorded nearly 20 songs for the “Lovin’ Life” project and always cut away five or six.
    So it is entirely possible that they recorded a more balanced project, sharing out leads and song structures, but as a hat tip towards the departing members, they shone the spot light towards them.
    If that makes sense!

  • As an irish tenor, ahem, i never noticed the warble until you pointed it out!

  • That’s a good theory. Sadly, I did not do the pre-order, and so I missed those two downloads! The National Anthem is itself yet another re-cut, but “Immortal, Invisible” would have been cool. Ah well, we’ll see if it pops up on Youtube at some point.
    That IS an Irish warble they’re going for there right? Lydia shook my confidence a bit when she broached the Southern possibility, but to my ear I thought they were essentially trying to make their voices sound like bagpipes. Which isn’t the worst, but just struck me as affected. 🙂

  • Oh dear! Open mouth, insert foot? 😆

  • DavidMac

    Dear Goodness!
    ‘Bagpipes’ do NOT ‘warble’, nor are they ‘Irish’.
    You might get away with ‘Ulster-Scots-bagpipes’. Perhaps.
    But still no warble. Bagpipes [Scottish] officially ‘drone’.
    An amazing sound, but divides the sensitivities of the audience – as quoth Shakespeare – like no other sound on earth.
    A bit like ‘Gaither Hymns’ then? lol.
    Personally, as a sign-off for Mike & Mark and that iteration of the GVB, I count it as top rank. It stands, for me, on an arrangement basis alongside the best of the ‘Best of GVB’.
    Will be interesting to see if it is bettered any time soon. By any up and coming GVB.
    [Memo to Bill. No more step outs. Ever.]

  • David! Haven’t seen you in forever! I certainly didn’t mean to insult bagpipes, I was merely pointing out that when people pretend to sound like them, it comes out kind of warbley, thereby indicating that perhaps the sound of a bagpipe is best left to a bagpipe. 🙂

  • DavidMac

    Will agree on that! It has been opined that treading on a cat produces a similar sound, but that is deeply cynical. Perhaps an appreciation denotes Scottish blood of some degree.
    As to absence. Long story, and serious family cancer issues, which, Praise God are positively resolved!
    Sorry to see DJM deblogged. It was a good place to go. Some people even cut their blog-teeth there!
    Keep the vinyl spinning sister!

  • I actually quite like the sound of bagpipes. 🙂
    So sorry to hear of the cause of your absence, but so glad to hear that it is now past! Thanks for the encouragement. Indeed, we miss Daniel, but I have been endeavoring to pick up where he left off to at least some extent, especially since the gang at Musicscribe is so focused on their ongoing quest to determine The Best SG Album Ever. You can go to their site and cast a vote in one of the 90s polls right now.