3:1 Reviews offer three highlights of an album and one area that could have been improved.
1: Musical Balance: Groups which have been on the road for decades often struggle to transition the distinctives that made them great into the modern era. Sweet Songs About Heaven does a remarkably solid job at striking the right balance between modern recording techniques and the classic Blackwood Brothers sound.
2: “Sweet Songs About Heaven”: This song is easily the album’s standout track (and to skeptical observers on the sidelines, I’d already made up my mind on this point prior to knowing that it was a Dianne Wilkinson / Rebecca Peck co-write). Blackwood Brothers fans aren’t looking for the passionate intensity of a Kyla Rowland testimony song. Many current fans have followed the group for decades and gravitate toward songs in exactly this vein: Mid-tempo songs where they can lean back, tap their toes, and reminisce about the good old days.
3: Songs that fit the Blackwood Brothers’ sound: Few writers still employ the musical and lyrical idioms that distinguish the greatest hits in the Blackwood Brothers’ repertoire. Group members have told me that it is actually quite hard to find new songs that have that classic sound and would fit alongside the songs they already stage. For Sweet Songs About Heaven, they have found several songs—
“I’ve Heard About a City,” “That’s What Was Good About the Good Old Days,” and “That’s What Heaven Will Be”—that would have been right at home on one of their 1960s RCA Victor records. Of course, there are remakes, like “Swing Down Chariot,” “Someone to Care,” and “The Devil Can’t Harm a Praying Man,” but the new songs are strong enough to be the star of the show.
:1: Song Selection: It’s not that the song selection was poor; tenor Wayne Little, in particular, had a strong handful of solos—”Sweet Songs About Heaven,” “That’s What Heaven Will Be,” and a remake of the Ernie Haase & Signature Sound song “Goodbye Egypt (Hello Canaanland).” (Sadly, that last track is a straight solo, losing the tenor/bass duet that made the original so fun.) It’s hardly that the rest of the songs were weak; it’s more that, had each member been featured on three songs that strong, the album would have been a five-star project.
Traditional or Progressive:
Rather traditional (but with Nashville studio-quality instrumentation).
Rating: 4 stars. (Average song rating: 3.7 stars.)
Credits: Group members: Wayne Little (tenor), Jimmy Blackwood (lead), Billy Blackwood (baritone), Butch Owens (bass). Produced by Billy Blackwood.
Song List: Goodbye Egypt (Hello Canaanland); Swing Low Sweet Chariot / Swing Down Chariot; Sweet Songs about Heaven; That’s What Was Good About the Good Old Days; It Is No Secret; I’ve Heard About a City / Walk Dem Golden Stairs; That’s What Heaven Will Be; Declaration of Dependence; Someone to Care; The Devil Can’t Harm a Prayin’ Man.