New Music Reviews: August 2021 Releases

by | Sep 7, 2021 | CD Reviews, Reviews

Click HERE to listen to this album and other August 2021 releases.

Artist: The Isaacs
Producers: Ben Isaacs/Bryan Sutton
Album Title: The American Face
Label: House Of Isaacs
Song Titles: The American Face; We Can Work It Out; You’re the Inspiration; Never Too Late For Love; Turn, Turn, Turn; Just Words; Humpty Dumpty Heart; Forever And For Always; Dance With Me; More Than Words; Love With All Your Heart; The Water Is Wide.
Release Date: August 13, 2021
Version Rated: YouTube Music
Rating: 5 Stars (scale of 1-5 Stars)

The Isaacs take their already impressive career to another level with the release of The American Face. The 12-song release features an even mix of brand-new songs and covers. The group recently accepted an invitation to become members of the prestigious Grand Ole Opry, a honor not typically extended to gospel artists. Meanwhile, the video for the title song was premiered by People magazine.

Don’t let the album title fool you. The American Face is not a collection of flag-waving patriotic songs. (Not that there’s nothing wrong with that).

Cover songs found on this album range from sources like The Beatles (“We Can Work It Out”) to Chicago (“You’re The Inspiration”) to The Byrds (“Turn, Turn, Turn”) to Shania Twain (“Forever And For Always”) to Extreme (“More Than Words”). Of these, the a cappella take on “You’re The Inspiration” and the nearly a cappella version of “More Than Words” with just a bass guitar and finger snaps for accompaniment are particularly impressive. The sixth cover song on The American Face is the classic “The Water Is Wide” which shares a tune with the familiar hymn “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross.”

“Humpty Dumpty Heart” is not a cover of the Hank Thompson song, nor is “Dance With Me” a cover of any of several songs by that title. These, like the title song and the other three tracks found on The American Face, are newly written.

A segment of gospel music fans will likely reject The American Face. The lyrical content of these songs is consistent with the Christian values the group has promoted their entire career, but some fans won’t care for the lack of an overtly evangelistic message. The American Face is a collection of songs about current life that is compatible with the Christian viewpoint and within those parameters, it is excellent.

Artist: Chuck Wagon Gang
Album Title: Radio Days
Label: Mountain Home Music Company
Song Titles: Two Gardens; The Record Book; WBAP Announcer (dialogue); Bewley Mills Jingle #1; Holy Be Thy Great Name; Stormy Waters; Somebody Called My Name; Bewley Mills Flour Commercial #1 (dialogue); WBAP Announcer (dialogue); Take Me Back To Col-ler-rad-do Fer To Stay; I Want To Be A Real Cowboy Girl; Bewley Mills Flour Commercial #2 (dialogue); All God’s Children Gonna Rise And Shine; Love Is The Key; I’ve Changed My Mind; WBAP Announcer Dinner Bell Chime (dialogue); Dad Carter’s Thought For The Day (dialogue); Bewley Mills Jingle #2; When The Sun Sets Over Jordan; I’ve Just Seen The Rock Of Ages.
Release Date: August 13, 2021
Version Rated: YouTube Music
Rating: 3 1/2 Stars (scale of 1-5 Stars)

The music of the Chuck Wagon Gang is simple by design with a trademark guitar strum as the only introduction for most songs. Vocals follow the parts more or less as they appear (or might appear) in a songbook arranged for soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.

The added novelty of Radio Days is that several tracks feature a radio announcer and commercials for Bewley Mills Flour. There’s also Dad Carter’s “thought for the day” paying tribute to the memory of group founder D. P. Carter (great-grandfather of the current lineup’s alto singer Shaye Smith). The radio show portion of Radio Days encompasses tracks 3-19. Due to the sterile recording studio environment, this tribute to the Gang’s radio programs of the past does not have the same charm as the similar segment on their Live In Branson album recorded in 2004.

Tracks 1, 2, 20, and 21 are presented outside the radio show concept because those are brand-new songs: “Two Gardens,” “The Record Book,” “When The Sun Sets Over Jordan,” and “I’ve Just Seen The Rock Of Ages.” The mournful quality of “I’ve Just Seen The Rock Of Ages” is the only stylistic departure on the album. Radio Days would be more effective as an overall concept recording if those four new songs had been included as part of the radio show. Starting the radio show after two songs have been sung without preamble is awkward, and then later, you’re led to think the album is over when there are two more songs left to go.

Artist: Brian Free & Assurance
Album Title: Looks Like Jesus
Label: Daywind Records
Song Titles: Looks Like Jesus (featuring Jimmy Fortune); What If We Pray; Old Things; What The Cross Really Is; This Side Of A Miracle; When You’re Staring At A Mountain
Release Date: August 20, 2021
Version Rated: YouTube Music
Rating: 4 Stars (scale of 1-5 Stars)

Looks Like Jesus is a 6-song EP from Brian Free & Assurance, their first release since the arrival of baritone singer Jake Anglin earlier this year. Former Statler Brothers tenor Jimmy Fortune joins the trio for the title track which leads off the EP. Even at the age of 66, Fortune sounds as good as he ever did.

If you go back through the history of Brian Free & Assurance, you’ll frequently find songs with the word “cross” in the title. “What The Cross Really Is” is an outstanding addition to that tradition and the highlight of the entire EP. On the other hand, fans who enjoy Brian Free & Assurance more because of their trademark hard-driving fare will want to cue up “This Side Of A Miracle.” The EP closes with a Brian Free feature “When You’re Staring At A Mountain.”

Like some other Brian Free & Assurance recordings from the past 10-12 years, Looks Like Jesus sometimes sounds a bit over-processed to my ear. Music in general is over-processed these days, but this album is processed more than most. That aside, fans who are accustomed to that sound should be happy to hear the change at the baritone spot has not affected the sound they have come to expect from Brian Free & Assurance.

Artist: Kenna Turner West
Producer: Jeff Collins
Album Title: A Reason For Hope
Label: Sonlite Records
Song Titles: Our God Is Good; Doubt The Storm; I’m Not Who I Was; Calling All Prodigals; We March On; The Center Of It All; There Is No Condemnation; A Reason For Hope (with Joseph Habedank); This Is My Story; Pray On.
Release Date: August 27, 2021
Version Rated: YouTube Music
Rating: 4 1/2 Stars (scale of 1-5 Stars)

One name you can find in the Top 10 on the Singing News radio airplay chart practically every month is Kenna Turner West. Her name routinely appears in small print where songwriters are listed. If Southern Gospel radio DJs collectively have an ear at all for talent, her name could soon start showing up in the artist column as well. West got her start as a singer in 1983 (she is the daughter of long-time Blackwood Brothers bass singer Ken Turner), but she turned her focus to songwriting as a career in the late 1990s.

A Reason For Hope highlights ten songs co-written by West along with several top writers in the business including Lee Black, Michael Farren, and Jason Cox. Setting the production and vocals aside for a moment to consider the songs purely on their own, this is the best collection of ten songs I’ve heard grouped together on the same album in a long time. Of course, it should be no surprise that a successful songwriter would choose only the best songs for her solo album. My favorite is “I’m Not Who I Was” which, as the title implies, celebrates how we can mature in Christ by living a life devoted to faith and prayer.

Not only are the songs well-written and firmly based in scripture (West is in the process of completing her Master’s degree in theology), West shows she is a more than capable singer. Most of these arrangements are pitched where she can sing in a comfortable mezzo-soprano range, but she can drop into that lower, richer alto spectrum (“Calling All Prodigals”) on occasion and sails up into the higher register a few times as well.

More importantly, West is an expressive singer. She puts just the right amount of tension in her tone when the lyric demands a firm approach like “We March On.” At the other extreme, she adds some breath to her tone for a tender lyric like “There Is No Condemnation,” but not to the point that it’s a distraction from the song’s message.

But don’t take my word for it. Scroll to the top of this article and click the YouTube Music link to hear for yourself.

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David Bruce Murray

David Bruce Murray

David Bruce Murray is a church music director in Ellenboro, NC. He is the author of Murray's Encyclopedia Of Southern Gospel Music and the owner of both and David plays piano for Southern Sounds Quartet and the Foothills Community Choir.


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