Click HERE to listen all of these albums on YouTube Music.
The McKameys sang from 1954 to 2019 with one group member (Peg McKamey Bean) impressively present for the group’s entire 65-year run! Peg’s husband, Ruben Bean, has also been present for 62 of those years. LIVE Like No Other is a DVD/CD combo that features interviews and concert footage from the 2019 National Quartet Convention. With a total of 18 songs, an introduction, a special presentation, and interviews, the DVD runs more than 81 minutes.
The concert begins with an introduction by Pastor C. T. Townsend and the crowd responds with a standing ovation as the group takes the stage. “Don’t Forget The Family Prayer” is a good opener with four-part harmony throughout. After quickly swapping mics with her mother, Sheryl Farris is featured on “Living For Eternity” followed by “I Made It By Grace” which features Connie Fortner. Ruben then gets a few laughs followed by applause and some “Amens” when he says, “This is not a funeral.”
After the group members are introduced individually, the song selection is drawn mostly from recordings originally released in the 2010s with the occasional number one hit from the past thrown in. Those number one songs include “Getting Used To The Dark” (October-December 1987), “God On The Mountain” (November 1988-March 1989), “Unspoken Request” (January 2013), “The Shepherd’s Point Of View” (December 2010), “Roll That Burden On Me” (November 1999), and “Do You Know How It Feels” (February-April 1993).
The camera work and audio quality are excellent. Each singer gets their share of feature songs, and yes, Peg’s shoes do come off. I won’t spoil your anticipation by pointing out precisely where or how often it happens. The DVD also includes the special presentations that were given to The McKameys from Horizon Records and the National Quartet Convention which is a nice touch.
I was hoping they’d include the convention song “I Love To Tell” (from I’ve Won) for a change of pace. The McKameys were really effective when they sang in that style even though they weren’t known for it and never did it often enough for fans to realize just how well they could do it. Fortunately, the songs that feature Roger Fortner (“For The Record” and “Unspoken Request”) and Eli Fortner (“God Is Good”) come from a different place vocally than the other songs and add some variety to the mix.
As the final live recording (as far as we know) by the McKameys, LIVE Like No Other is an obvious “must buy” for McKameys fans.
Label: Horizon Records
Song Titles: Introduction (Pastor C. T. Townsend); Don’t Forget The Family Prayer; Living For Eternity; I Made It By Grace; Getting Used To The Dark; Be Brave; For The Record; Something Worth Saving; Trophy Of Grace; God On The Mountain; How Deep Is The Sea; Unspoken Request; The Shepherd’s Point Of View; Roll That Burden On Me; God Is Good; From Dust To Glory; There Is Jesus; Do You Know How It Feels.
Release Date: July 17, 2020
Version Reviewed: DVD/CD
Rating: 4 1/2 Stars
Closer To Home: Overhauled is partly old and partly new. Carolina released Closer To Home in 2011 when the group members consisted of Chris Roberts (tenor), Scott Whitener (lead), Roger Burnett (baritone), and Lamar Levi (bass). This new “overhauled” version features the vocals of bass singer Chris Parker who joined the group in 2016 and Riley Dotson who arrived in 2018. (Drummer/cajonist Jon Robertson also appears on the new cover.) There is one change in the song selection. “That Old Gravel Road Was Easy Street” (which featured Burnett) has been replaced by “Go Rest High On That Mountain.”
Fans of Carolina know the group members are themselves big fans of the Oak Ridge Boys. If there was any doubt, consider the song selection here. Nine of the ten songs on Closer To Home: Overhauled are cover versions of songs released on albums by the Oak Ridge Boys between 2000 and 2006 including five selections from Front Row Seats (2006). “Go Rest High On That Mountain” is the exception, obviously.
Carolina puts their own mark on these songs, though. I particularly enjoyed hearing Riley Dotson’s solos on “The Journey.” Other highlights include Scott Whitener singing “Jonah, Job, & Moses,” Chris Roberts on “Go Rest High On That Mountain,” and Chris Parker’s take on “Old Familiar Love.”
Label: Berry Hill Records
Song Titles: Closer To Home; The Journey; Did I Make A Difference; Old Familiar Love; Heaven’s A Small Town; Jonah Job And Moses; Sincerely I Remain; A Mansion There For You; Until You Get There; Go Rest High On That Mountain.
Release Date: July 5, 2020
Version Reviewed: Digital Download
Rating: 4 Stars
Disclaimer: I am a former member of Carolina (keyboard, 2006-2008), and currently maintain/update their concert promotion website.
The Isbell Family is based in Savannah, Tennessee. Group members include Eric & Rachel Isbell along with their children Kaleb and Autumn. They have been singing full time for the past seven years. Their new album Rise Up is on the Chapel Valley label.
The album opens with the title track “Rise Up” featuring Autumn, a dramatic orchestrated piece. The next song “Heavenly Resource” is a fun toe-tapper featuring both Kaleb and Autumn. This is a minor gripe, but I wish they had flipped those two. With a relatively new group, it’s better to get people’s attention with a quick fun song before settling into something heavier and serious. “When I Pray” is another dramatic track that builds up to a big finish.
The next few songs are cover versions of songs released previously by other artists. “Heaven’s Point Of View” is an excellent version of the song popularized by The McGruders. The Isbell Family then offers their take on the 1973 Carpenters hit “Top Of The World” (also famously recorded by Lynn Anderson for the country market). They then jump to the 2018 Crowder song “Red Letters.” “I Have No Complaint” is not as familiar as the other cover songs, but it has a connection to The Isbell Family. Eric Isbell wrote the song and Abby Paskvan recorded it in 2011. Of course, “I Think I’ll Read It Again” was Gold City’s first number one hit in 1984 and remains a fun standard to sing more than 35 years later. The Isbell Family excels at this sort of song.
“Thankful And Sincere” starts softly and builds to a climax before settling down for a soft ending. The closer is “Broken And Whole.” Unfortunately, the vocals are over-stacked to the point of distraction on this one.
I was not familiar with The Isbell Family previously. Vocally, they’re very talented. Autumn who sings soprano stands out in particular, but not to the point of overshadowing the rest of the family.
With five rather diverse cover songs, Rise Up is all over the place musically. For the next album, I would like to see them choose more original material. More importantly, they should to settle on a musical identity of their own that plays to their specific strengths as opposed to singing songs they heard someone else sing that they happened to enjoy. The fact that they can sing a variety of song types with consistent quality is to their credit, but covering this much territory may not help them stand out at this point in their career to help fans remember who they are after hearing them for the first time.
Label: Chapel Valley
Song Titles: Rise Up; Heavenly Resource; When I Pray; Heaven’s Point Of View; Top Of The World; Red Letters; I Have No Complaint; I Think I’ll Read It Again; Thankful And Sincere; Broken And Whole
Release Date: July 10, 2020
Version Reviewed: YouTube Music
Rating: 3 1/2 Stars