Recording Oddities: “Hand Of Sweet Release”

Recording Oddities: “Hand Of Sweet Release”

I’ve long considered the Gaither Vocal Band’s 1998 Christmas album, Still The Greatest Story Ever Told, to be not only among one of my favorite Christmas albums, but one of my favorite albums of all genres. It’s a mellow, calming album that I often play on Christmas Eve while my kids are in their beds waiting on Santa to arrive, and yet it still showcases the tight blends and amazing vocal abilities of Guy Penrod, Mark Lowry, and then-newcomer, David Phelps.

One of the reasons for my enjoyment of this album is “Hand Of Sweet Release.” Written by Suzanne Jennings, Michael Sykes, and Guy Penrod, this album starts off with a soft piano/organ intro, coupled with Guy’s tender vocals, and ultimately builds up to a freakishly-high second verse. Despite being on a Christmas album, it’s probably one of the strongest GVB songs of the Penrod/Phelps/Lowry era, and a hidden gem that I would love to see brought back:

Well, the song HAS been brought back, and it’s being done by the current Vocal Band lineup of Phelps, Wes Hampton, Adam Crabb, Todd Suttles, and of course, Bill Gaither. They are using the same track as before (something that is not new to the GVB, as they are quite adept at re-cutting songs with old tracks), with a couple modifications in the mix and a totally new vocal arrangement (courtesy of Phelps).

In the past, we’ve gotten tracks that have been remixed, switched up a couple instruments, and even in a new key, usually without any major impact on the song itself. This time, however, they actually changed the TEMPO of the song, speeding the track up. Now granted, the original recording clocked in at a rather long 5 minutes (which is probably what kept it from being released as a single), but this is the first time I’ve heard a track digitally sped up (cutting about 30 seconds out of the running time).

Which take do you prefer – the original slower version, or the faster, more vocally-active arrangement?

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Kyle Boreing

Kyle has been writing for MusicScribe since 2008. He is a musician, producer, arranger, and occasional quartet singer, who pays way too much attention to recordings. He is an alumni of Stamps-Baxter School of Music and has shared the stage with many different artists. He also really likes movies that are "so bad they're good." Visit his website at, or follow him on Twitter @kyleboreing.

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  1. Reply October 15, 11:22 #1 James Hales

    I like the original version better. Has more feeling to it, in my opinion.

  2. Reply October 15, 11:50 #2 David Bruce Murray

    The slightly faster tempo works better, but I prefer the original vocal arrangement.

  3. Reply October 15, 19:17 #3 Tad Kirkland

    I never listened to the first GVB Christmas album much because wasn’t Christmasy enough for me. I much prefer the 2nd GVB Christmas album. So, I’m not biased going in. This song sounds a little too much like Daystar for me to fully appreciate it–especially the melody in the verses.
    While I like that David got to be creative and like that that they out that much effort into changing it rather than trying to duplicating the original–which is what usually happens, I prefer the original. I was giving the new one a chance until the second verse. I do not care for Todd’s solos in the bass register. I do like him in his higher register. That second verse was a let down. I don’t think I would have noticed the tempo change so I have no preference either way on that, but I did prefer the organ on the original.

  4. Reply October 16, 12:29 #4 Chris Unthank

    I like the fast version – but of course I’m a huge fan of Adam Crabb – so this comes as no surprise! LOL

  5. Reply October 19, 00:18 #5 John

    I think the newer recording is better..

  6. Reply October 19, 19:39 #6 Jeff Gurnett

    Interesting question you’ve posed… I like the slightly quicker temp better and I, too, am a big fan of Adam Crabb. I like most of the creativity in the newer version but the 2nd verse of the arrangement just seems disjointed. I think they would have been much better served to keep Crabb on the melody throughout the 2nd verse and brought Wes in on harmony. I guess I may lean toward the original with its simpler arrangement but flawless vocals.

  7. Reply October 19, 22:32 #7 Jackie

    I just do not like Todd Suttles in the mix. The whole sound of this GVB is different mainly because of his deeper voice. I like Bill Gaither’s bass in the GVB. That will always be the GVB sound to me. And yes I do know the very first GVB had a “real” bass but I never knew about the first GVB until much later. I have never been a fan of a low rumbling bass. So I like the first version better for what it’s worth.

  8. Reply September 24, 13:17 #8 Rob Thrower

    Any idea if the sheet music is available for the faster version and where?

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