Is it possible for truly great songs from truly great songwriters to be overdone?
If such a thing is possible, then our genre has probably never seen songs more overdone then those that have left the pens of Bill and Gloria Gaither. There’s no question that the songs themselves bear a timeless greatness. However, after hundreds of renditions, it is a nearly impossible task to offer a creative new arrangement that doesn’t traverse all-too-familiar ground.
That’s not all. The artist here has recorded projects so innovative that they have raised the bar for themselves as much as for the genre. It doesn’t matter if you are a newcomer or the genre’s most popular artist; it’s nearly impossible to top projects like The Blind Man Saw It All and Declaration.
Let it suffice to say that fans come to a Booth Brothers project with incredibly high expectations. Does A Tribute to the Songs of Bill and Gloria Gaither meet or surpass those expectations?
It all depends on how you look at it. This project does not have the exuberant progressive energy of The Blind Man Saw it All or the orchestrated majesty of Declaration. If you come to the project hoping for either direction—Gaither songs given a cutting-edge progressive treatment or a majestic orchestral treatment—you will walk away disappointed.
It seems they were aiming for an entirely different target. Yes, there are moments of brilliance, but it is brilliance of an completely different variety. The strongest moments on the album are both relatively subdued—”Through” and “Tell Me.” Both tracks are likely to go down in the annals of Southern Gospel lore as the definitive renditions, surpassing the previous benchmarks of the respective Gaither Vocal Band versions.”Through” is a lush masterpiece, a perfect capstone to the recording. The only moment on the album more exquisite than Melissa Brady’s guest solo on “Tell Me” is her duet with tenor Michael Booth on the “Like eagle’s wings” verse.
The two new songs are also worthy of mention; “I Played in the Band and Sang in the Choir” is a fun toe-tapper, while “Let the Healing Begin” is the strongest new Gaither composition since “A Picture of Grace.”
On first listen, the remaining eleven tracks may strike you as unremarkable. In point of fact, they do bear a surface resemblance to previous renditions. But dig a little deeper; it’s the subtle unison line here and the changed chord there that evince an understated (but very real) creativity.
This album isn’t the one you play during your morning workout. (That would be The Blind Man Saw it All.) It’s also not the one you play when you’re in the mood for a triumphant proclamation of the majesties of our God. (That would be Declaration.) If you’re looking for the next Declaration or Blind Man, you’re bound to walk away disappointed. This is the album you play in the quiet times—in the still of the night, in the valley, or at the close of a long day.
This, it seems, is the target for which the Booth Brothers were aiming. Many of the tracks are subdued, relaxing, and calming. The arrangements are so consistent that even the faster songs don’t seem out of place. Take one arrangement by itself, and it might not seem all that remarkable. But take each as a puzzle piece, and the bigger picture emerges. The arrangements share a sonic consistency that makes the project something to be experienced in its entirety.
Depending on what you’re looking for, this album is either an utter disappointment or a stroke of sheer genius. We think there is a place for albums for the quiet times in life, and we think this is the finest recorded in recent years. So we’ll take the latter interpretation and assign it five stars.
Traditional or Progressive:
Middle-of-the-road, with several traditional arrangements, and a few that incorporated enough electric guitars and/or brass to have a moderately progressive feel.
Credits: Produced by Nick Bruno, Ronnie Booth, Michael Booth, and Jim Brady. Musicians: Jason Webb and Gordon Mote (Piano, Keyboards, and B3); Dave Cleveland (Guitars); Glen Duncan (Fiddle); Scott Sanders (Steel Guitar); Mark Hill and Gary Lunn (Bass); Steve Brewster and Dan Needham (Drums). Orchestrations arranged and conducted by Steve W. Mauldin (Russell Mauldin on Through). Strings by the Nashville String Machine. Engineers: Jimmy Tarbutton, Bob Clark, and Doug Sarrett. Assistant Engineer: Eddy Joyner. Mixed by Joe Carrol and Jim Brady. Mastered by Hank Williams.
Song List: Because He Lives; I Played in the Band; God Gave the Song; There’s Something About That Name; Feeling at Home in the Presence of Jesus; I’ve Been to Calvary; Tell Me (with guest vocalist Melissa Brady); Joy in the Camp (with guest vocalist Bill Gaither); I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary; I Will Serve Thee; I’m Free; He Touched Me; I Just Feel Like Something Good Is About To Happen; Let The Healing Begin; Through.
Album Rating: 5 stars.
Five-star songs: Tell Me; Through. (However, almost all of the rest are four-star songs!)