CD Review: Mercy’s Well – Questions & Answers

CD Review: Mercy’s Well – Questions & Answers

(This review of Questions & Answers by Mercy’s Well is written by Terry Snyder, AKA Quartet-Man.)

Mercy’s Well has been reviewed here before, and had some songs chart, but might still be new to some readers.  For those who aren’t familiar with the group, Mercy’s Well is a male trio based in North Carolina.  You might regret having not heard them earlier once you hear this project.  Mercy‘s Well’s roots go back to a duo called Strider and Marsh before becoming a trio called Mercy’s Well. Brad Strider might be a familiar name (to those who scour credits) for his graphic work for many SG artists through his company, b.creative.

One thing about Mercy’s Well is that they all get a turn at lead and are often in the lead position of the arrangement (with the tenor and baritone assignments trading off) instead of just singing lead in their own vocal position. Although the group vocal assignments are officially Brad Strider-tenor, Jake Wood (the newest member)-lead, and Greg Gainer-baritone, the group is sort of like the Gaither Vocal Band in that they change vocal positions around. Brad quips that they are three baritones, and mentions that they all take turns singing tenor in the group. This is reminiscent to me of the Sons of Song trading the tenor part around, and it works. Jake is a great fit to Mercy’s Well. Brad and Greg have worked together for nearly 13 years, whereas Jake has been with them a few months over 2 years (so far).

This project is a good collection of songs previously recorded by other artists (although they seemed to steer clear of signature songs or the most popular songs of the groups). This gives them quality songs to choose from and not ones that everyone (including me at times) may have heard. They do give credit to the artists whose cuts inspired them.

“Who Do You Know” was a Hinsons’ cut, and I had not heard it prior (to my knowledge).  This cut seems to keep the spirit of the Hinsons’ cut I heard on YouTube (including the section with most of the instruments dropping out or backing off before kicking it back in again) including a descant to emulate the background vocals on the original. I do appreciate the update in the instrumentals  as the original hasn’t aged particularly well. This is what I call a “Strut Song” as far as style. It makes you want to move, but at a slower pace than “When We Make It To the Other Side” does.  (more like strutting than taking off in a dead run).

“At the Name of Jesus” was a cut from the Cathedrals’ “High and Lifted Up” project.  Although I like the sentiment of the song, the Cathedrals are one of my all-time favorite groups, and that Lari Goss produced project was arguably one of the groups’ best (in their last decade at least); that cut (although well-done) was never one of my favorites. Even though I had the choir at my church do an arrangement of the tune several years ago, I still preferred songs like “Death Has Died”, “High and Lifted Up”, “Jesus Saves”,  “Come Home” , and “Jesus Has Risen” (at the very least) from that Cathedrals’ project,  to this one. But Mercy’s Well went for a stripped down arrangement instrumentally and modernized the harmonies a bit, and I like it. They have breathed new life into this song and it feels like being reunited with an old friend.

“Who Do You Think” is another one that is further removed from the original instrumentally. This song had been cut by the Statler Brothers on a Christmas project, and is another I am not sure I had heard previously. But, the portion I heard on YouTube sounds like a pretty typical Statler Brothers’ arrangement complete with the “boom chuck” rhythm. I prefer this updated track that still isn’t a drastic departure from the source material. The big difference vocally is that Mercy’s Well has no bass vocalist (insert obligatory neither did the Statlers joke here). One problem I see with having this and “Who Do You Know” on the same album is if someone asks for the “Who Do You” song.

When We Make it to the Other Side” Warning: This song will make you want to “boogie” (as George Younce used to say) which can injure you, get you laughed at (and possibly a video posted), or maybe even kicked out of your denomination if you follow through. This is one of my favorite two or three songs on here. My car may or may not have gotten a mind of its own and wig wagged back and forth a few times while I was driving and listening to this.  ;-) (Disclaimer: Do not try this unless you are a professional driver on an enclosed course and at your own risk even then).

The one thing that might have made this great cut even better is a reprise with a bass singer added (with a bass glissando at the end), but that might just be me. Honestly, it is hard to improve on this at all. Heaven Bound originally did this song and it is nice to see them paid some respect and still be remembered. This version is more “rowdy” if you will and a little less straightforward than Heaven Bound’s. I love what Mercy’s Well did with this. They also added a bridge of “I Shall Wear a Crown” as a bridge and it fits superbly. This would be a great single.

“Sheltered In the Arms of God”  This Dottie Rambo tune has been cut and performed numerous times. Acts such as the Rambos, Oak Ridge Boys, Stamps, Imperials, Blackwood Brothers, Hinsons, Blue Ridge Quartet, Greater Vision, Gold City and the Downings (who was the “influencer” on Mercy ‘s Well’s version ) have put their spin on this song. Unlike many versions of this song, Mercy’s Well does a more intimate, stripped down version with piano and just a little sweetening. This arrangement also serves them well as it gives Greg Gainer the chance in a concert setting to slide over to the piano to accompany himself (as the other two members harmonize). This is a nice, reverent cut.

“Seeking For Me” has been cut by the Cathedrals and Greater Vision, but the group chose to base their arrangement on the Lanny Wolfe Trio version, and rightly so. The other versions were good for what they were, but I prefer the “gospel” style on the Wolfe Trio’s version. Hmm maybe there is something about this song and the name Wolfe. Gerald Wolfe was in the Cathedrals (and they might have staged this song during his time with them) and Greater Vision. I had not heard the Lanny Wolfe Trio version prior and although it still has the “gospel” feel in the arrangement, sounds dated today production-wise. Mercy’s Well’s arrangement is one of my favorite cuts on this project and the Hammond B3 organ is a nice touch and appropriate for this style. Let’s have church!

“Jesus Knows All About It” is a song that Rusty Goodman previously cut. Brad Strider gets a chance to show off his low range a bit by hitting an Eb2. This too updates the original, but brings the instrumentation into more modern times, while maintaining the feel of the original. This is another fun song that is hard to stand still on, and the harmonica is a nice touch.

“Jesus Saves” is a song that has been performed by Candy Hemphill Christmas (along with Guy Penrod or David Phelps), but was originated by the Hemphills (whose version is the one that inspired Mercy ‘s Well’s version). Mercy’s Well includes part of the hymn, “Jesus Saves” as a bridge in their version (like the previous versions I have heard). Mercy’s Well’s version starts off more reserved, and even though it grows in intensity, they still keep some in the tank (compared to other versions), with the dynamics not really going past moderately loud. This is a very nice cut.

“I’ll Be So Happy There” is a song originated by the Goss Brothers. I was unfamiliar with this and the only version I found on YouTube was the group live with piano. Mercy’s Well takes it at a slower tempo than the Goss version, which actually seems more appropriate. They give this a big band feel. I do not listen to that style of music, but I like this. It is a nice contrast to the other songs. You would be hard pressed to find too many  southern gospel or contemporary groups pull off this style and arrangement today.

“Thinking About Home” This song was originally done by the Talleys and although this arrangement deviates from theirs to a larger degree than some, it is still a laid back, acoustic version which brings the lyrics to the forefront even though it isn’t sung especially heavily. I could imagine Ben Isaacs doing something like the instrumentals in this (and a few others on this album) on the projects he produces. This is another great cut.

“Keeper of the Well”  was originally done by the Rambos. Once again I hadn’t heard the song before. This arrangement is reminiscent of something the Imperials would have done in the mid to late seventies or so. They kept the spirit of the original, but brought it to current times production-wise. This sounds like it would have sounded had it been recorded back then, but with today’s technology. The track and performance has a bit more punch than the Rambo’s version.

“Shine On Us” Full disclosure here, this version of the Phillips Craig & Dean song had to grow on me a little. The original is so great and definitive, that this version fell short to me at first (mostly instrumentally). But, after listening for a few times, I can appreciate what they did here, and it fits well as a benediction to the album. This version might go over better to a Southern Gospel audience who hasn’t heard the original version for the past 22 years or so, than it originally did to me. But, the more I listen to this, the more I can appreciate this on its own merits, instead of how it is not Phillips Craig & Dean’s cut.

To sum up this review, this is one of the best recordings I have heard for a while. Even most of my favorite recordings will have at least one tune I tend to skip (even on hits albums). Although Mercy’s Well has other cuts spread out over previous recordings that match or possibly eclipse at least some of the songs on here, this may well be their best album overall. There isn’t a bad song on here and although there are a few I like less than others, there really isn’t anything on here that I would have to skip. That is rare with me. There are barn burners, moderate songs, tender ballads, and the lead vocal changes and style changes keep it fresh. I give credit to the group for not only mentioning the artists whose renditions inspired them, but also for giving credit to the songwriters as well as those involved in the album. The only thing I wish would have been included were the lyrics, but that would have required a regular jewel case and insert. But, I am very appreciative of all that they did include with the limited space of using a digipak.

I should also mention here that Donna King’s production and arrangements should not be underestimated. Her relationship with Mercy’s Well has really been beneficial to the group. It might not be too far of a stretch to call her an unofficial fourth member of Mercy’s Well in a sense (at least in my estimation). I also give credit to the musicians and others involved in this project. Although this is an independent release, you would not know it by this project, they do it right. I like this project so much that even though I would have preferred different packaging and a couple of songs aren’t quite as high as the bar set for by the others, I just can’t bring myself to ding the score, it is that good. I heartily recommend you grab a CD (or download if that is your thing).

 

Producer: Donna King
Rating: (1 to 5) 5 Stars

Overall rating
5 out of 5

5

Excellent
5 out of 5
Category CD Reviews, Reviews

MusicScribe Comments

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5 Comments

  1. Harry Hughes
    Reply October 13, 20:21 #1 Harry Hughes

    Keeper of the Well was also recorded by Sandi Patty on the same album where she recorded Dotties We Shall Behold Him (Love Overflowing).Interestingly enough,Sandi’s version is in a country style,where as the Rambos’ version is in a synthesized contemporary style.




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  2. quartet-man
    Reply October 14, 01:45 #2 quartet-man

    Interesting, Harry, I might have a re-release of that on CD, but probably only listened to it once (if that) back in the eighties or so. I know that that album is what first made her known to an extent. It is possible I have a different early album on CD with “We Shall Behold Hi” on it.




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    • Harry Hughes
      Reply October 14, 22:03 Harry Hughes

      Love Overflowing from 1981 has Sandi’s original recording of We Shall Behold Him.All the greatest hits anthologies use the version from her live album of 1983.




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  3. JE Butler
    Reply October 17, 05:47 #3 JE Butler

    This group is absolutely top-tier and deserves a breakout project… Hope this is it!




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    • quartet-man
      Reply November 27, 18:15 quartet-man

      Sorry I didn’t reply before now. They do and this should be it. If not, then it is another one of those things I don’t understand. :-)




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