This project is a labor of love for the Booth Brothers. It’s a whopping 15-song collection of Gaither tunes, re-worked in the group’s signature understated style. The selection ranges from the essential (“Because He Lives,” “He Touched Me,” “I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary”) to the lesser-known (“I Played In the Band,” “Let the Healing Begin,” “Through”). Should you go out and buy it? Read on for my thoughts.
* “I’ve Been to Calvary” is a great song, and the Booth Brothers make it sound like it was written for them. This probably betrays my spotty familiarity with Gaither’s work, but I actually hadn’t heard it before listening to the tribute. I really enjoyed the experience of hearing it like a new song.
* “Let the Healing Begin” is also a perfect fit, and a great hidden gem from the Gaither catalogue. [Edit: Reader Melissa has said that she thinks both this song and "I Played In the Band" may be brand-new co-writes with Larry Gatlin! Here I assumed I just hadn't heard of them. :)]
* “I’m Free” gets a classic gospel swing treatment with thick piano and B-3 Hammond. It’s perhaps the most satisfying arrangement on the album. This is one of the few numbers where the Brothers really let themselves cut loose and get big. It’s Gaither the way it’s meant to be sung, and on a primarily mellow project, it really stands out. I can’t wait to see it live.
*The customary bombast of “He Touched Me” is replaced with a lovely, delicate wonder that lends itself to quiet contemplation. It never rises above a whisper and ends as quietly as it begins, layering in some beautiful harmonies. Now interestingly, the Brothers have recorded this song before on their Live in Oaktree project, and if you haven’t yet heard that rendition, it follows the more traditional pattern, starting mellow and building to a dramatic high point with the tenor hitting a high note at the end. I like both ways of approaching the song.
*Melissa Brady provides guest vocals on “Tell Me,” giving it a sweet, light AC feel.
* “Joy In the Camp” is a natural fit for the Booths and gets a fiddles-laden treatment reminiscent of “Still Feelin’ Fine.” I also liked hearing Bill sneak in on the bass.
* “I Played In the Band” is just a cute song,
a virtually unknown number that’s being brought back like new here. Not great, but lots of fun. It should be a popular crowd number. I love the guitars, organs and brass. The extra jam and fadeout tacked on at the end was cool.
*Even though the tempo feels a little rushed, “I Still Believe In a Hill Called Mount Calvary” is exciting and works well for Michael on the climactic verse.
*I liked the fact that they put “Through” at the end of the project. The song’s lack of verse-chorus structure gives it the feel of a seamless, single benediction.
*This isn’t a best-of collection. It’s a tribute. There’s a difference. So iconic Gaither tunes like “Let Freedom Ring,” “Sinner Saved By Grace,” “Worthy the Lamb,” and “The King is Coming” are left out for lighter fare like “Feeling At Home,” “I Just Feel Like Something Good is About To Happen,” or “God Gave the Song.” While this makes for a less heavy project that complements the Brothers’ mellow style, the downside is that it makes the song selection weaker and less interesting than it would have been if they were striving to pick only the cream of the crop for every slot.
*I vividly remember the first time my mom subjected me to “God Gave the Song.” I think she enjoyed it because she was giggling maliciously through the whole thing. I had registered a blank when she mentioned it to me, so she felt it necessary to expose me to this iconic contribution to the realm of saccharine inspo which saturated her younger years. The Booth Brothers perform it minus the prolonged narration from Bill in the middle (you know, the one that builds to a dramatic apex as they kill the song, then hushes so that the plinky piano theme can make itself heard once more as a symbol of the resurrection… yeah, you probably wanted to forget, but you’re welcome). On one hand I’m thankful for this, but on the other hand it’s one of those things where you need extra cheese to make the cheesiness almost work. If you’re going to do the song at all, might as well pull out all the stops. But in case you hadn’t guessed by now, I move for not doing the song at all.
*The Brothers have already recorded “I Just Feel Like Something Good is About to Happen,” and I don’t think it was good enough to be revived here. Like cotton candy, it takes up space without contributing anything of substance.
*I would have liked to hear them take “I Will Serve Thee” in more of the direction the Cathedrals took it—less produced and taking its time. (Although I do love the harmonic breakdown, and Michael’s slide up to a higher tenor part on the final chorus.)
* “Because He Lives” is nice and pleasant, but it’s a bit dull. Once again, they opted to speed up the tempo, and you can feel the loss in dynamic impact.
Bottom Line: This project could probably have benefited from either a somewhat trimmed song selection, or a selection that swapped out the more forgettable numbers for more memorable fare. Maybe the idea of tackling “Worthy the Lamb” or “Sinner Saved By Grace” seemed a little daunting, but I sure would have liked to see them try! As they proved with Declaration, they’re not incapable of handling the big stuff. Perhaps Michael wanted to make the mix easier to listen to by not stacking it high with big ballads, but in that case I would have just opted to have fewer songs. As for the arrangements, the Booth Brothers aren’t pretending to create new definitive versions of any of these songs, particularly since the Gaither Vocal Band has already left their own stamp on so many. Instead, they’re adapting them to suit their strengths. The results are occasionally disappointing but mostly refreshing, and sometimes inspired.
Ultimately this project will have something for everyone, and I recommend it. You may hear a few tunes you’d never heard before, and you’ll enjoy hearing your favorites re-imagined. They’re in good hands.
Rating: 4 stars