Producers: Michael Sykes, Holly Robinson-Branch, Scott Whitener
Song Titles: Come By Here; The Old Dirt Road I Grew Up On; I Don’t Have To Stay; Everyday American; Can’t Hurry The Harvest; Down By The River; American Morning; If You Had Only Seen Me Then; The Stories On The Wall; Working Prayer; The Saints Sing Their Way Home; Way Down Deep
Group Members: Chris Roberts, Scott Whitener, Riley Dotson, Chris Parker
Release Date: July 28, 2018
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)
Carolina (alternately known as Carolina Quartet) has been around for a number of years. This self-titled release appears to be an effort to move away from mostly well-known covers, building their own musical identity (while still bringing a favorite or two).
I will say up front, this is less of a straight-forward southern gospel album, and more of an “Americana” album. Yes, there are plenty of Christian references throughout the album, but the focus is more on small-town middle America, with lots of references about dirt roads and front porches. “That Old Dirt Road I Grew Up On” paints the picture very well with a mid-tempo country backing, while “The Stories On The Wall” is a tribute to family through family portraits.
Being co-produced by Michael Sykes, the album (and group) draws some parallels to The Oak Ridge Boys, starting with the opening track, a cover of a more obscure ORB cut from 1987. The arrangement doesn’t stray far from the original version, only with less of the Jimmy Bowen-esque 80’s synths (ask an 80’s country nerd about that reference). Carolina does the song justice, and revives a unique song that deserves to be heard.
There are times where, for me anyway, they get a bit too heavy-handed on the flag-waving. “American Morning” works well, although it’s a bit too close to “Dirt Road,” but “Everyday American” hits you right in the conservative gut. I’m sure it’ll be a good stage song, but for folks like me who has had their political fill, it feels like one step too far.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some gospel songs. “The Saints Sing Their Way Home” seems to be included specifically for the more church-oriented crowd, as it is a tribute to hymns and songs of years past in a traditional 3/4 southern gospel feel, not dissimilar to Gold City’s “If Church Pews Could Shout.” This would be a good single choice for the group to SG radio. “Way Down Deep” is a hand-clapping (literally) number that would likewise fair well on SG radio.
Sykes, along with Holly Robinson-Branch and group member Scott Whitener have produced a solid album that isn’t too loud or high on over production. My only complaint would be the vocal tuning in spots, but there’s no way in this era that you’ll avoid that I believe.
Carolina seems to be picking up where groups like Monument and, to a lesser extent, the Dove Brothers Band left off – performing solid, clean country music focused on faith, family, and patriotism. I give them credit for trying to think outside the box a bit and not settling for the traditional 4-part gospel style. I’d recommend giving this album a listen.