The Best Of The Gaither Vocal Band
Spring House/EMI, 2004
REVIEW BY: Daniel Camp
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/10/2009
Bill Gaither has accomplished a great deal in his lifetime, revitalizing Southern gospel music for new generations, acting as a father figure in the Christian recording industry to artists ranging from Sandi Patty to Michael W. Smith, and penning classic hymns like “The King Is Coming,” “He Touched Me,” and my all-time favorite, “Because He Lives.” But as evidenced by this album, his greatest accomplishment may have occurred in 1981 when he officially formed the Gaither Vocal Band.
Since a spur of the moment concert song in 1980 when the popular Bill Gaither Trio added a fourth singer, this group has been bringing blessings to listeners in the form of everything from good ol’ gospel songs to harmonious arrangements of hymns to stirring a cappella pieces. And The Best Of The Gaither Vocal Band does a spectacular job giving folks a nice sized sample of what the group is all about.
For those unfamiliar with the group, the Gaither Vocal Band has been touring with larger than life Christian entertainer Bill Gaither since the early 1980’s. Many of the group’s songs are either written by the group as a whole, or by Gaither, or by a single member, while others are arrangements of old church classics. However, not to be kept tied down, the group makes a sincere effort to experiment with a variety of different musical styles without abandoning their Southern identity.
But, all that said, how’s the music? In a word, extraordinary.
The group is, and will always be, a primarily vocal band, so while the late Anthony Burger shines on piano (the vast majority of his playing was, unbelievably, improvisational), do not go in looking for brilliant instrumentation. It’s all about the voices here, which is never more evident than on the a cappella beauty “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go,” a song written by tenor David Phelps -- incidentally the most gifted member the group has ever had -- who is featured heavily in this album.
Classic hymns get their turn with beautiful vocal arrangements like “At The Cross,” “He Touched Me,” and “The King Is Coming.” Particularly since Bill Gaither wrote two of these, they are given a great deal of respect, but neither does anyone hold back. The arrangements are gorgeous, fluid, and more than do the originals justice.
The Gaither legacy remains gospel music, however, and a great deal of that genre is present on this album, from old revival songs like “The Baptism Of Jesse Taylor,” to “Mary Was The First To Carry The Gospel” to “Can’t Stop Talkin’ About Him.” Even for those who are not particularly fond of the gospel genre (guilty as charged), the abilities of the singers must be admired, and the harmonies make these songs worth more than one listen.
The previously mentioned David Phelps is probably the most exposed singer on the album, given the number of songs present that feature his soaring, positively astonishing tenor. For my money, David Phelps is the most gifted classically trained singer in the music industry today, and I’m not forgetting about pop sensation Josh Groban. If you don’t believe me, simply listen to “The Love Of God,” “He Touched Me,” or “Sinner Saved By Grace,” just to name a few. You will not be disappointed. Oh, and the bold lead tenor who threatens on occasion to steal the show? Guy Penrod, another gem in the group, and the longest tenured member of the group besides Bill Gaither himself.
Nearly all the old favorites get their chances to shine as well. “Alpha And Omega,” and “I Believe In A Hill Called Mount Calvary” are two standbys at Gaither concerts, and the recordings on this album are great examples of how good those songs can sound.
For those intrigued by my glowing reviews of the singers and arrangements but unsure about buying a Christian (note: I didn’t say CCM, since some of these recordings are thirty years old) album, I recommend you download the group’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” or “Let Freedom Ring,” two tributes to the country Gaither loves and loves to sing about. If neither of these convinces you to check out the remainder of the album, I don’t know what will.
A notable attempt is made to include as many of the different group lineups as possible, but the quality never suffers for this effort, and the variety is never a disturbance to the flow of the album. Assemblers of “Best Of” albums in other genres would do well to pay attention to how this one was formed; it flows better than some ‘actual’ albums I’ve heard.
I’ve only owned this CD for a few months after receiving it as a birthday present, and I’m still hooked. Regardless of your religious beliefs or lack thereof, you won’t be able to listen to this album without being impressed, I guarantee it. Literally my only complaint is that the album contains only 37 songs. Based on what I’ve heard from these songs, I could listen to a hundred and still want more.