Bill Gaither unveils his groups new lineup in classic fashion
Once again, Bill Gaither, the wily godfather of gospel music, assumes the role of the proverbial wise scribe, pulling from his treasure things both old and new. The old is represented by the 14 tracks on the Gaither Vocal Bands latest, Give It Away. The new is tenor Wes Hampton, who steps in to fill the estimable shoes of David Phelps, and Marshall Hall, who takes over baritone duties from Russ Taff.
Rather than dithering about breaking new ground, Gaither & Co. wisely elected to do what it does bestperform tried- and-true favorites with style, panache and precision. But just because the members are covering familiar territory doesnt mean they are satisfied to leave it undisturbed. A pair of Imperials classics, Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters and Eagle Song, maintain all the charm of their original incarnations, but GVBs stellar tag-team lead vocals and impeccable four-part harmonies lend a timeless quality to the tunes.
Keenly aware of its southern gospel roots but never content to be pigeonholed in that genre, Give It Away finds the foursome exploring smooth jazz a la the Hoboken Four (Ill Tell It Wherever I Go), foot stompin honky-tonk (I Catch Em, God Cleans Em), gentle piano pop (I Will Go On) and power ballads (Eagle Song). Why Me Lord suffers in comparison to Kris Kristoffersons gritty original, but the childrens anthem Jesus Loves Me assumes grown-up stature in this slightly bluesy version. Theres even a breezy, calypso-inspired number, Love Can Turn the World, that will have you swaying with the palm fronds.
Of course, fans of Gaithers Homecoming projects will find plenty of gather round the piano tunes that formed the basis of the original Gaither Vocal Band. Worthy the Lamb and the title track will make you feel as if youre in the midst of an all-day singing and dinner on the ground.
The GVB has reinvented itself on numerous occasions during its nearly quarter-century run, making it one of the most resilient artists in the industry. And the current lineup on Give It Away may be the most balanced ensemble in the groups history.
MIKE PARKER- CCMMagazine.com