I saw the Ball Brothers in concert the other night—sort of. Cornerstone Church in Reedsburg, Wisconsin did a live-streaming event, and even though the video quality was just average, audio was great and I thoroughly enjoyed tuning in. I took notes and decided to publish a full review. So here’s a full set list with comments. They were drawn up quickly, so forgive any tpyos and msiprints. Asterisks denote highlights:
1. Happy Am I — Cute, easy-listening ice-breaker.
2. I Wouldn’t Miss Heaven For the World — This is an “oldie” for Ball Brothers fans. Andy Tharp and Chad McCloskey both got step-outs. I’m impressed with Tharp’s full tone. Chad’s voice is lighter but very easy to listen to. Then Daniel Ball came in, and I remembered what a good singer he is. All the guys impressed on the multiple key changes.
3. Glory to God In the Highest — I believe they use the Signature Sound track for their cover of this favorite. It’s not really the same without an actual bass, but they do an enjoyable rendition.
Daniel did member intros and included an update on Stephen, who is doing well with the help of hearing aids and has become an assistant pastor. In his intro for Stephen’s replacement, Andy, Daniel said they had been looking for somebody who could get along with siblings, and since Stephen [sorry, I meant Andy--told you I did this fast!] comes from a family with 12 children, he was a perfect fit! Then Daniel said that Josh was planning to move out near Stephen, and joked that together they were going to start a rival quartet called The Ball Brothers. He then introduced Cody and said he was dating their sister, but when he came to 22-year-old Chad he said the lad was still not spoken for. So, in an almost George Younce-esque moment, Daniel called for applications from any unmarried ladies ages 18 to mid-80s who might be interested in Chad.
4. He’s Got the Whole Thing In His Hands — I call this “dinner theater” music. Super silky smooth jazz, a bit sleepy, but ear-tickling.
*5. Every Day, Every Hour — Seamless transition between this song and the last. I’ll say here and now that NOBODY can touch the Cathedrals’ version, but the Brothers handle it with respect and class. It definitely fits their style. I always have trouble telling whether they use stacks doing this live, but it almost sounded like a different “brother” really was filling in on tenor while Andrew ad-libbed toward the end.
6. Basics of Life — A 4Him chestnut. Less punchy and soulful than the original, but it’s a very logical choice for them. I’m actually singing along as I type.
7. Great Is Thy Faithfulness [Instrumental] — This was a Cody McVey piano solo.
8. Give Me a Glimpse of Your Glory
More talking, with a few “short” jokes at Chad’s expense. Then…
*9. Beulah Land — Really showcases the flexibility of Chad’s voice, and this is also a really nice piano-only moment for the group.
*10. I’ve Been Redeemed — This has a country/bluegrass flair in the vein of the Perrys’ “Blue Skies Coming.” Daniel asked before the song “How many of you like a little country feel to your gospel? Okay, three people. This is for you.” Daniel just did a great step-out by the way. Andrew’s tenor also rang out clear in this one.
11. My Love — This was preceded by a long and hilarious segment where Daniel talked about their grandmother, and how she raised them on Gaither videos. “Our Grandma forced us to watch Gaither videos as children. I don’t know if that’s a crime, but that’s what she did.” Then when they began singing, she raised them to sing “technically” (whatever that means, couldn’t get a really clear impression from Daniel’s description). Then they talked about how she recently got Facebook (Priceless comment: “If you don’t have Facebook, you are probably missing this generation’s greatest waste of time!… You can spy on people and gossip… it’s great”) and supposedly was complaining about their style. I don’t know if this is true or not, but it made a great story. So Daniel is on the phone with Grandma trying to calm her down and saying “We do all different styles… country, contemporary, black gospel…” whereupon she said, “But you don’t sing technically, in a classical style like I taught you.” Daniel said he bet they could, and she demurred. So they recorded this quirky song with some “classical” riffs and frills to prove Grandma wrong. It’s really a novelty piece, more “Bohemian Rhapsody” than Bach, so assuming the story is true, I’m not sure how well it went over with Grandma. But it is funny.
*12. Mercy Said No — Another “oldie.” I’ve always preferred this version to the original. Andrew seemed to struggle a little on his high notes tonight, but finished well. I can’t help wondering if it might work a little better for him just lowered a half or whole step.
Here there was a product pitch and intermission. Daniel encouraged folks to buy Cody’s new instrumental project, because all the money will go directly to Cody. People cheered, then Daniel said he was saving up for a new X-Box, whereupon a little boy offered a standing-O in the front row. But then in seriousness, Daniel said the REAL reason Cody is saving up is that he’s marrying the Ball Brothers’ sister and wants to buy an engagement ring. “So if you want to help Cody marry our sister… buy his CD!”
During intermission, the Brothers sent out a special greeting to their online viewers, encouraging us to call everyone we know so we could reach their goal of 4000 people and crash the server.
*13. There is a Mountain — I think this is one of the Balls’ best covers. They took a GVB song and truly made it their own. The result sounds like a Go Fish effort.
14. I’m Already Living Forever — I think Phillips Craig & Dean’s “This is The Life” is a better song along similar lines, but this one is catchy too.
15. The Peace of God — This mellow jazz piece allows the group’s tight blend to shine. They really are strongest when all four voices come together.
16. Healer of My Heart – Both the Ball Brothers and the Sisters have recorded this comforting contemporary ballad.
*17. Ride That Glory Train — They made this a great little moment for Chad to “learn” his bass part. Daniel instructed him on what notes to hit, and I was struck by Chad’s versatility. He has such a light voice when he does his step-outs, yet he was technically hired to sing low notes! This song is on their upcoming CD, and I like the little twists they put on the arrangement. In my mind the Cathedrals’ arrangement will always be the gold standard, if only for Roger Bennett’s inimitable piano improv, but I enjoy this version too. I noticed that Cody switched to a jazz organ (or something funky/electric-sounding anyway) on his keyboard part-way through, which was a cute touch.
*18. Walking In Jerusalem — This piece shows the Balls stretching their legs with some bluegrass (which they explained helps them fit in better where they come from in Chickamauga). It was one of the few times we got to hear a step-out from Andy Tharpe.
*19. It’s About the Cross – Here Daniel wrapped up, as he always does, by sharing a heart-warming and funny story about his 5-year-old son Logan. Some of you have probably heard parts of it before, but I hadn’t heard the lead-up when Logan was trying to decide what to be when he grew up in the fifteen minutes before bed-time on Career Day. He was torn between being a Ninja (Daniel was hilarious about this) or a gospel singer (because he’d decided he wanted to be like Dad and not have to work). Then Logan asked, “If you had to go out there and sing just one song, what would it be?” Daniel brushed it aside (“Logan we’re ALWAYS able to sing more than one song…”) but Logan was very serious and said, “But just imagine you couldn’t… it would be pretty important what song you chose wouldn’t it?” And like the sweet little kid with great taste that he obviously is, Logan said he thinks this song “sums up your whole ministry, everything you sing about, in one song.”
I agree. And this was a terrific performance. It occurred to me that sometime I should ask Daniel where they found the second verse. The Go Fish original first appeared on a Christmas album, and the 2nd verse was specifically Christmas-themed. The Balls’ version has more generic redemption/salvation lyrics. It works really well for them. If I can be really nit-picky for a moment, there’s just one grammatical issue I’ve been meaning to point out: Listen closely to the final chorus in the Go Fish version and notice the subtle change from “It’s about how…” to “It’s about…” when they sing “It’s about every drop of blood that flowed from him when it should have been me.” The Ball Brothers simply forgot that “It’s about how” no longer makes sense with the alternate ending, so they sing “It’s about how every drop of blood…” Might want to change that.
I greatly enjoyed this concert and would definitely recommend the show. The pastor said that one of his kids saw the Brothers practicing before the concert and asked if they were really singing or just lip-syncing. Their blend is that smooth and tight. And it’s especially impressive now that only half of the group is related. If anything, the blend is better than ever. Andy and Chad have both proven to be excellent choices.
In a genre with quite a few sound-a-like groups, these guys are unique. They offer something different from your typical quartet. It gives them a wide appeal. Also, though Daniel is prone to wander a bit in between songs, their comedy is fresh and different from the norm. Coming away from this concert, I really only have a couple words of wisdom for them:
1. Feature Andy Tharpe more frequently. I don’t think he ever got a full feature to himself, and he had very few step-outs. Maybe this makes sense given that he’s one of the new guys, but I’d love to hear more of what he could do.
2. Daniel, learn how to pronounce “Wisconsin.” It’s WIS-consin, not WES-consin.