CD Review: “Better Together” – Gaither Vocal Band

CD Review: “Better Together” – Gaither Vocal Band

GVBbettertogetherBetter Together
Produced by Bill Gaither, Ben Isaacs, and David Phelps
Spring House Music Group
Format: CD & Digital

Tune-O-Meter: Low

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars (scale of 1-5 Stars)

SONG TITLES:  Working On A Building (Traditional)  Led Out Of Bondage (Bob Prather) – Heart O’ Mine (Dallas Holm)When He Set Me Free (Joe Washington) – But I Need You More (Gloria Gaither/George Poulton) –  Dig A Little Deeper In God’s Love (Kenneth Morris) – Moses Smote The Water (Traditional) – We’ll Talk It Over (Ira Stanphill) – Didn’t It Rain (Traditional) – You’ve Got A Friend (Carole King) – Better Together (Chip Davis/Bill Gaither/Dony McGuire/Reba Rambo McGuire) – Walk On The Water (Bill Gaither/Gloria Gaither)

The Gaither Vocal Band is an evolving entity musically. Originally conceived as a one-off “throwback” group during Gaither Trio concerts, the group initially morphed into a pseudo-inspirational/contemporary act, especially with Larnell Harris and Michael English, before shifting into a more country/southern gospel sound once Guy Penrod joined. When the “super-group” lineup came to be, the sound once again shifted into more elaborate vocal arrangements (often the work of David Phelps) rather than the standard quartet sound. The group today seems to have abandoned “assigned” parts altogether. Instead, David Phelps, Wes Hampton, Adam Crabb, Todd Suttles, and Bill Gaither sing whatever the song dictates, with Phelps and Hampton swapping around the first and second tenor parts (or even baritone in some sections), while Suttles and Gaither alternate between baritone and bass, with Crabb singing whatever part is left.

It’s this lineup that brings ups Better Together, the followup to Sometimes It Takes A Mountain. While Mountain leaned more towards the contemporary sound, Together seems to be pointed more at a vintage sound. Several spirituals are sprinkled throughout such as “Working On A Building,” “When He Set Me Free,” and “Didn’t It Rain” combined with more recent compositions such as “But I Need You More,” “Better Together,” and “Walk On The Water,” the latter of which was most recently released by Annie and Kelly McRae, all done with the same intricate vocals as Mountain, but with a 1950’s musical style for the most part co-produced again by Ben Isaacs and David Phelps.

Of the older material, “Working On A Building” is the catchiest, but it’s one of the most repetitive versions lyrically I’ve ever heard. “Led Out Of Bondage,” with Suttles on the bass lead vocals, feels equal parts rushed and slightly lazy, as Suttles tries his best to talk-sing the verses, but comes out more monotone than anything. The focus again appears to be less on lyrical impact than on elaborate vocal arrangements. The backing tracks at times feel less nostalgic and more just outdated. One review I read made a reference to a Disney-esque sound, and I can’t say I didn’t come to the same conclusion myself; the ballads in particular sound like something out of “Pinocchio” or “Alice In Wonderland” musically, with lots of orchestration and stand-out string parts.

With the group members being so agile, their vocal flexibility results in some truly creative arrangements, but it also plays against them in the larger picture; the lack of consistent vocal parts means that the group has less of an identifiable sound that was so distinct in both the English and Penrod eras. This may be by design, but it means that you never know exactly what sound you’re going to get with the group. In addition, it feels like there is a disproportionate amount of vocals to instruments. There is very little room to let the tracks breathe, and in some instances, the vocals are actually stepping over themselves, as demonstrated in “You’ve Got A Friend.” In addition, the vocal stacking results in some of the voices being buried in the mix. Hampton and Crabb seem to disappear in the mix at times.

I had to give this album two separate listens to give it a fair review. My initial reaction was rather negative, especially when compared to previous Gaither Vocal Band releases. After a second listen, my reaction has softened a bit, but it’s mainly because I don’t think this current lineup has found its own identity yet. All of these vocalists are more than capable, but I think they’re being squashed by a desire to simply give everything SOMETHING to do all the time, even if it’s not necessary to the song.

Overall
3.5 out of 5
Overall

While definitely more stylistically cohesive than its predecessor, Better Together still suffers from a bit of an identity crisis of sorts, as it is so distant from previous GVB efforts.

3.5

Average
3.5 out of 5
Category CD Reviews, Reviews

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 www.kyleboreing.com, or follow him on Twitter @kyleboreing.

MusicScribe Comments

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9 Comments

  1. canuk
    Reply September 13, 13:28 #1 canuk

    *Larnelle*

  2. darrell
    Reply September 13, 13:35 #2 darrell

    Does Bill get any features on this album? I know on the last one he had exactly zero. On a side note, is it just me or does the GVB record an awful lot of cover songs these days? How about putting out a new album with new material…….

  3. QwertyJuan
    Reply September 13, 23:45 #3 QwertyJuan

    I think you are being VERY generous by giving it a 3.5 stars out of 5. I “tried” to listen to it and kept skipping tracks and finally gave up. I have a Google Play subscription and could listen to it all I want but I’d rather not. Worst GVB recording ever, IMO.

    P.S. I’m a HUGE GVB fan. I’ve bought all their music since “A Few Good Men”, back in… 1991?? So I don’t want you to think I’m a hater… I’m not. But this album?? Terrible.

    • Kyle Boreing
      Reply September 14, 07:26 Kyle Boreing Author

      As I said, I couldn’t do this review after one listen, and after giving it another shot, I did find some merit to it.

  4. JSR
    Reply September 14, 17:49 #4 JSR

    I too am a GVB fan and I’m very disappointed in this album. There is so much potential in the line up they have and it seems to be wasted. Maybe it will grow on me in a few years.

  5. Kdal
    Reply September 15, 06:57 #5 Kdal

    It’s funny to me the commentary about the over-production on this album, especially following their last one, Sometimes It Takes a Mountain.

    The spirituals are the highlights of the album. There’s not near the over-arranging on this album as there was on the previous. The overall harmonies are honestly the stars of the album, hence the title I imagine. Some great five-part singing with Bill clearly doing the doo-wop bass on Working on a Building where Todd sticks more with the blend.

    It’s been years since anyone in southern gospel tackled a lot of that Jordanaires/Golden Gate style of singing, and GVB tackled some doozy arrangements. I told a friend of mine recently that I thought this was one of their very very best, vocally. We also agreed that since the album wasn’t covered with a lot of big ballads, soaring high vocals, and the bells-n-whistles that people are used to these days, that it would likely bring a lot of criticism over the Internet. Guess we were right.

    If you’re talking about good GROUP SINGING, I think that this is one of their very best. Listen for some of the structure of what they’re doing, and some of you might change your mind about this recording.

  6. Nathan
    Reply September 15, 23:55 #6 Nathan

    I actually feel this is a very good album for the purpose it was intended. From what I understand, it was intended to be somewhat geared towards doing the Black Gospel Spirutuals not to be a traditional GVB album. That kind of changes the dynamic for me. It has really grown on me the more I’ve listened to. These harmonies and arrangements could pretty much only be pulled off this good by the GVB.

  7. Chris G.
    Reply March 27, 14:35 #7 Chris G.

    IMHO, the GVB reached its zenith with the Phelps-Penrod-Lowry-Gaither quartet and has been semi-floundering since then. This latest 5-member incarnation would have difficulty rising above and maintaining a 3. 5 rating. Admittedly, there sometimes emerges some interesting sounds, arrangements and “structures.” I’ll keep listening in hopes it will grow on me….

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