I met Darrell Ritchie in the 1980s when we were both completing our respective undergraduate degrees at Gardner-Webb College (now University) in Boiling Springs, NC. Darrell has sung at the church where I lead music a few times over the years as a soloist, and in 2016, we were treated to a duet concert with Darrell and his wife Dawn.
Darrell & Dawn recently sent me their 2016 Christmas CD Comfort & Joy as well as their recent hymns release I’ll Fly Away. Both CDs were produced by Brent Rader.
Five of the thirteen tracks on I’ll Fly Away are new recordings. The remaining eight have been released before, but two of those eight have some fresh vocals. Most of the songs on Comfort & Joy are familiar carols and standards with a couple of surprises.
Even though you’ll recognize most of the titles, the arrangements take some of these songs in directions you might not expect. “How Great Thou Art” is more up-tempo than most versions, and “Angels We Have Heard On High” has a fun driving rock beat. The vocal arrangements also toss in some subtle rhythmic changes, throwing “away” in almost as afterthought on “I’ll Fly Away” and delaying the second syllable of “victory” on “Victory In Jesus.”
Another interesting twist is found on the song “Comfort & Joy.” It begins with the “Away In A Manger” lyric set to the tune of “We Three Kings,” then it kicks into a rollicking version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”
I have collected Christmas novelty songs for years. There’s a cute one to add to my collection on Comfort & Joy titled “I Got A Cold For Christmas” with Dawn playing the part of a sick kid.
Overall, I’m more impressed by Comfort & Joy. Producer Brent Rader created all the tracks on that CD with the exception of Sam Levine’s saxophone work. I’ll Fly Away is generally good, but bringing back songs previously released (including several from 2016’s A Distant Memory) gives it less of an identity. This CD would have been stronger as a 5-song EP, leaving off the old material. That being said, “Down To The River” remains my favorite recording by Darrell & Dawn.
Songwriter names and publishing information are not included on the packaging of either CD. Of course, I realize most of these songs are in the public domain, but it would still be good to know who created them.
One nice element you’ll notice on both of these recordings is a true duet sound. Many duet recordings I hear are just alternating solos, but Darrell and Dawn Ritchie compliment each other nicely, shunning the temptation to drown their own harmony vocals out with a wash of background vocalists.
Producer: Brent Rader
I’ll Fly Away Song Titles: I’ll Fly Away; Blessed Assurance; How Great Thou Art; White As Snow/Nothing But The Blood; Victory In Jesus; I Surrender All; We Have Met To Worship; Wade In The Water; Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone); Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus; Down To The River; Just As I Am (I Come Broken); A Distant Memory (Journey’s End)
Comfort & Joy Song Titles: Angels We Have Heard On High; Do You Hear What I Hear; The Christmas Song; O Come All Ye Faithful; Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree; I Got A Cold For Christmas; O Holy Night; What Child Is This; A Baby Changes Everything; Comfort & Joy
I’ll Fly Away Rating: 3 1/2 Stars
Comfort & Joy Rating: 4 Stars