About a month ago Daniel Mount contacted myself and several other bloggers, about doing a mega review of the upcoming Booth Brothers Album Declaration. At the time the Booth Brothers were selling pre-release copies of the new album. The official release date was slated at June 1st 2010 (today). We contacted the Booth Brothers, and they graciously provided us with copies of the new album to review. As I started listening to this album for the first time, I realized that I was listening to a landmark album that could very well raise the bar for Southern Gospel Music as a whole. And I believe my colleagues feel the same way, as you will observe below.
*The other bloggers include Daniel Mount, Wesley Burke, Aaron Swain, Brandon Coomer and Phil Boles.
Song 1: A Higher Throne
Daniel: A few hours before this CD arrived in my mailbox, I was pondering Lari Goss’s iconic introduction to the Cathedrals classic “Champion of Love.” It’s an instantly recognizable riff—and not just because it is the melody of a line whose lyrics we remember. It’s inherently unforgettable on its own merits. I was pondering whether Goss would ever offer another intro of that caliber.
Now Declaration isn’t even in bookstores yet as I write this, so it’s far too early to declare this intro iconic. But incipiently iconic or not, the introduction instantly grabs your attention. A soaring trumpet crescendo is answered by swelling strings and woodwinds. The trumpet sounds again, and the orchestra answers. The band kicks in, and trumpet, orchestra, and band set a fittingly majestic backdrop for a lyric depicting Heaven’s throne room.
Though Declaration is so full of strong songs that there will be stiff competition for radio slots, this song should unmistakably go to radio. Though it’s 5 minutes 25 seconds long, a tempo on the fast side of midtempo makes it seem to go by faster.
Wes: What a great choice to open the disc. I love the anthemic feel of this song, and right away this cut shows that the partnership between Lari Goss and the Booth Brothers is going to exceed every possibility you’ve imagined since it was made known.
Nate: Agree totally with you guys about this song. I can’t help but get excited when I hear this song. I love it from the opening to the ending. It ends with a breathtaking, sweeping, epic ending. You mentioned the beginning being a great opening stanza, but the song also ends on a great note. Great song that Lari Goss struck gold on again. And I can’t wait to see this song get staged live.
Daniel: I knew the song was good on its own merits. But not until several weeks later, when I came across the original, by Keith & Kristyn Getty, did I fully appreciate what Goss had done with the song. I should say that I rediscovered the original, to be precise, since I had already heard it. But the arrangements are so different that I hadn’t connected the two until searching for the songwriter.
Goss deserves to be named in the same breath as Beethoven, Bach and Mozart. It would take a talent of that level to take the original and give it this level of treatment.
Song 2: God Did it All
Daniel: This Ronnie Booth feature starts simply enough. A lush orchestral track featuring the woodwind section accompanies a beautiful, lilting melody about Creation. By the chorus, the song becomes a powerful statement of God’s sovereignty. The song builds into a huge ending that should equally captivate live audiences and radio DJs (though Daywind should cut the encore before singling it, as 6:10 is too long for a single.)
The melody for this Rusty Golden / Dianne Wilkinson collaboration has a fascinating provenance: Wilkinson wrote the lyric and composed a melody for the chorus. She brought up the song during a collaboration session with Golden, who proceeded to come up with a melody for the verses—without having heard her chorus melody. Then she showed him what she had for the chorus—and they realized it was a perfect fit.
Nate: This song is very well written and very well performed. I love Ronnie Booth’s voice. This song makes you take notice of just how good of a singer he really is. I love the message to this song. It should challenge you to get ready, and to tell others that “God Did It All.”
Wes: This is the first big ballad you hear from Goss and the Booths, and it doesn’t disappoint. Ronnie Booth turns in a tremendous performance. This should be a single, the length not withstanding. Actually, the Kingdom Heirs singled “He Had To Hold To Calvary” back in the mid 90s, and it was 6:01.
Daniel: It wouldn’t be more than a minute of work to cut out the encore. They’d be wise to single it without the encore (even if they leave the alternate version on the radio compilation disc for any DJs who want it).
Song 3: I See Grace
Nate: This song written by Jim Brady along with Barry Weeks and Tony Wood, is a song that the Booth Brothers have been staging for several months now. It is one of my favorites on this project. It starts with a epic sounding intro, that settles into to a great medium to fast tempo song, that is very well orchestrated. Jim Brady gets the lead on this song.He never ceases to amaze me with his vocal versatility and range, and he really shows it here. He has Michael Booth stacked above him for part of the first verse, making for some nice harmony. I love the end of the second verse that says “Those who have come through unbearable loss not defined by the past but defined by the Cross.” That is a great line that really defines this song and makes it a potential radio hit. I have been told that this song has been going over particularly well in concerts, and I can see why.
Jim Brady shared with me the story behind the song last week at the Gaither Homecoming. He got the inspiration from his sister when she told him about these cardboard testimonies that their church was doing. People were drawing out their testimonies on cardboard and holding them up in church. So in a way you could see God’s grace coming through their picture testimonies… So Jim got the idea to do a song about seeing Grace on every face, and in every life of the people they meet at every event they are a part of… And he took it to Tony Wood and Barry Weeks and they created this amazing song.
Daniel: You captured my thoughts exactly! “Not defined by the past, but defined by the Cross” is the line that defines the song. It moves it from a 3-star to a 5-star song.
Wes: I’d say either this or “A Higher Throne” should be the first radio release. I’ll agree with both of you on that particular lyric, it really makes the song’s message come alive. It’s a great reminder of the church being made up of imperfect people covered by God’s grace.
Song 4: The Gospel Song / Before the Cross
Wes: This song starts with the breathtaking acappella piece “The Gospel Song”, which features some of the most beautiful classical harmonies you’ll ever hear. There’s then a musical introduction to “Before The Cross”, which is a ballad carried by Michael Booth. It has an slight neo-classical or Celtic feel to it. Michael sings the verses solo, with the group harmonies entering for the chorus before joining in the last line of the chorus unison. The track builds toward the second verse with alternating unison, solo, and harmony lines. The Booth Brothers have always been known for their smooth harmonies, and this song gives them a chance to really showcase that trademark. The song continually builds through the bridge, key change, and repeat of the chorus all the way up to the last line of the tag, which is a soft, high falsetto from Micheal that brings the song to a soft, beautiful conclusion. One of the picks of the project to me, it’s a GREAT song.
Daniel: No question it’s a standout, even among a project full of picks. After three consecutive five-star songs, the a capella intro is a perfect change of pace.
The song itself comes from the Sovereign Grace Music repertoire. People in our genre frequently repeat the charge that Contemporary Christian Music is lyrically shallow—and there is some truth to the charge—but Sovereign Grace Music is a shining exception. While their tracks are usually too contemporary for this genre’s listeners, the lyrics are as solid as anything in Southern Gospel.
The songs come from project Songs for the Cross Centered Life (2004). “The Gospel Song” (penned by Drew Jones and Bob Kauflin) was also done a capella, as the project’s opening track, but the similarities end there. While it was done with a solo female voice on the original, the Booth Brothers’ delightful cascading harmonies are original to this arrangement.
“Before the Cross” had a somewhat Celtic feel on the original, too, and that element was captured in the Booth Brothers’ arrangement. The neoclassical arrangement, however, is unique to the Booth Brothers’ arrangement, as is the captivating high falsetto ending.
Nate: This song is without a doubt a highlight. I was blown away by the A Capella opening, the harmonies are truly breathtaking.
This may be the best Michael Booth feature since “Trust His Heart” from the Harmony album. The Falsetto ending was perfectly done… I love how Lari had the orchestration built up for this huge ending. Then suddenly it slows for that beautiful ending. Great song that I listen to over and over again.
Song 5: All Over the World
Phil: This song opens with a lively latin feel, punctuated by some brass and percussion. As the title of the song suggests the Booth Brothers bring a different style of music and bend it towards the southern gospel genre. The song is fast-moving on the verses and it really kicks up a gear on the chorus. The use of syncopation and after beat create an infectious energy that gets the feet tapping! The harmony is, as expected with any Booth Brothers material, wonderfully smooth and enjoyable.
Daniel: The first few times through the CD, this song sounded vaguely familiar, but I could not place it. I finally founded it . . . in my own iTunes collection! As it turns out, this song was originally recorded by Steve Green on his 1996 project The Letter. Green grew up as a missionary kid in Argentina and is fully bilingual and comfortable in Latino culture. He co-wrote this song with David Hamilton. I agree with Phil that, while the original Latino influence is evident (kudos for our Irish colleague for hitting the nail on the head there!), this is an able adaptation for our genre.
Wes: Are you kidding me? Only Lari Goss and the Booth Brothers would have the guts to record a Southern Gospel samba. I could actually see this song being done on an episode of Dancing With The Stars. It’s a great track, and one of the most unique arrangements you’ll hear on a Southern Gospel CD!
Daniel: “…a Southern Gospel samba.” That phrase has a nice ring to it! So is it that the song would fit on Dancing With the Stars, or could you see them learning some nice choreography?
Wes: I could see this song being performed/played for the pros or even contestants to perform.
Daniel: Oh, okay.
Song 6: We Believe
Aaron: In an orchestrated ballad very similar, both lyrically and stylistically, to “Statement of Faith” on Legacy Five’s Just Stand project, the group lets the listener know what exactly it is that they believe in. Michael Booth starts the song off, showing off a nice lower end to his voice. Jim Brady then gets a feature on the second verse, with Ronnie Booth taking the third. What’s interesting about the structure here is that Michael, the tenor, gets the lowest feature, lead Jim getting the second highest, and baritone Ronnie getting the highest. Although the song is not keyed all that high, that particular arrangement of voices intrigued me. The song builds to a powerfully orchestrated finish that Goss is known for producing.
Daniel: The solo order also intrigued me. This song is instantly familiar to long-time listeners of Inspirational / CCM radio, since it was a big hit for Steve Green in 1991. However, it has been long enough and enough people in Southern Gospel may never have heard of it that it’s time to bring it back.
Wes: This song was also recorded by the Imperials on their mid-90s album ‘Til He Comes. I, too, noticed the order of the solos, and was impressed with Michael Booth’s lower range. It’s a good song no matter who sings it, and the Booth Brothers are no exception.
Nate: I have to say that this may be my favorite cut on this Album. On an album full of great songs… I love how they did the solos, it shows the incredible versatility of all three singers. I could see this song being huge for them… I am looking forward to seeing it staged live. This is one incredible song, and one awesome arrangement of said song!
Brandon: Nate, you will not be disappointed when you see this song staged. It brought the congregation to its feet when I saw the Booth Brothers last week. I also think the song works wonderfully with the group’s focus on the scripture during their concerts.
Song 7: I Still Believe in the Church
Wes: This song is a cover of a song released by Friends IV on their CD, One Voice. It’s got a funky, uptown soul/jazz feel to it. The Booth Brothers lay down some incredibly smooth harmonies with some nice jazz chording throughout the song. Jim Brady does a remarkable job on the bridge that definitely deserves a mention. He’s definitely got the soulful sound that this song demands. I think I like the Friends IV version a little better, but the Booth Brothers do an incredible job on this as well.
Phil: This song reminded me of a more up-tempo version of the Gaither Vocal Band song, “The Church Triumphant”. In saying that, the two songs are very different, lyrically speaking. I agree on your thoughts on Jim Brady’s vocals on the bridge, the jazz style compliments the smooth harmonies of the Booth Brothers.
Song 8: Then I Met the Master
Brandon: When I first saw this song on the track list, I really wasn’t looking forward to it. I expected it to be the same tenor led arrangement that you usually hear. I should have known better with Lari Goss and the Booth Brothers.
The song begins acappella with a choir providing some background and percussion-like beats while Ronnie Booth delivers a very smooth, understated verse. As the first chorus is reached, the choir becomes a touch louder and some light orchestration and piano can be heard. Ronnie again has the solo on the second verse, but without the choir backing him. The choir is also left out of the second chorus, but returns following a bridge for the final chorus, along with increased orchestrations, to build up to the huge Goss finish.
As I said, I wasn’t expecting much, but the Booths and Goss have delivered the best version of the song I’ve ever heard. This is easily one of my favorite songs on the project.
Nate: I could not agree more with Brandon’s thoughts on this particular song. I also think it is the best version of this song that I have ever heard.
Daniel: Perhaps due in part to the family ties (Michael Booth being Mosie Lister’s son-in-law), the Booth Brothers put a Mosie Lister song on every project. Though this is one of his most recognizable tunes, they unquestionably made the right decision by putting off doing their own version until they had the chance to work with Lari Goss. This arrangement does breathe new life into a great lyric that has too often been done poorly.
Wes: I always enjoyed Jay Parrack singing this song with Gold City, but I have to agree with the others that this has instantly become my favorite version of the classic. Lister’s timeless classic combined with Goss’s touch with big ballad arrangements and orchestrations combined with the flawless voices and harmony of the Booth Brothers…you can’t ask for more than that!
Phil: Making a classic like this sound fresh and “new” is no easy task. The combination of Lari Goss and the wonderful harmony of the Booth Brothers, it truly lifts up this rendition as one of the best I have ever heard.
Song 9: This is the Day / I’m Gonna Keep on Singing
Brandon: Several years ago, “This Is The Day” made a comeback with a handful of groups recording it in a small time frame (The Perrys, Southern Sound Quartet, and I believe the Florida Boys). Most, if not all, of those arrangements featured a bass lead. Since the Booth Brothers don’t have a bass singer, I knew the group would give us an updated take on it. This arrangement is one of the few up tempo tracks on the project, which surprises me because with the Booth Brothers, I typically think of “barn burners” like “Still Feeling Fine” and “I’ve Been Changed.”
It starts out with an great kick off featuring the brass section that lets the listener know this is going to be a really fun song from the start. Ronnie and Jim trade the solos parts back and forth before a nice bridge transitions the song into two choruses of “I’m Gonna Keep On Singing”. The medley goes back to “This Is The Day” for a final chorus and ending.
On a project featuring very few up tempo numbers, this track was a welcome change of pace and one of my favorite songs on the project.
Phil: I agree about the change of pace, it was good to hear something a little different. Ballads and epic arrangements are brilliant, especially the caliber found on this project, but it’s nice to hear the Booth Brothers pull out a “barn burner” as Brandon accurately put it!
Daniel: Your memory serves you correctly—the Florida Boys cut the song in 2005, on Sing Your Blues Away.
Wes: This is a great uptempo track. “Keep On Singing” is another Friends IV connection, which is not surprising since Goss worked closely with them, and the Booth Brothers have the vocal talent and blend to pull some of those songs off.
Song 10: Absolute Peace
Aaron: This particular track of this project throws the listener a curve ball. The piano and strings intro sounds like it will lead up to a tender, stripped down Michael Booth feature, but about ten seconds, light drums kick in and a saxophone is added to give the song a soft jazz feel, and the song ends up being a group feature. The trio’s harmonies really shine here on top of the soft musical background.
Wes: I’m a jazz nut, and Aaron is right, this does have a nice light jazz feel, and really gives the group a chance to show off their smooth harmonies. It’s a gorgeous song that is a highlight of the disc.
Brandon: I agree with Wes that this is one of the highlights on the project. The saxophone and easy feel gives the track a sound that would have been at home on the group’s This Stage Of Grace project from almost ten years ago.
Song 11: In Christ Alone Medley
Nate: I have to say that this is a favorite of mine on this album. It actually combines two songs by the same name into one. The first song of this medley was written by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty. I actually remember hearing it when the Contemporary group the Newsboys. Natalie Grant and Lauren Talley have also recorded this song.
The other song by the same name was also originally a contemporary Praise and Worship hit song. That was a big hit for Michael English, and has also been covered by Brian Littrell and Phillips Craig And Dean, among others. In the Southern Gospel world, the Kingdom Heirs covered it about ten years ago, featuring Eric Bennett. In the Booth Brothers’ stunning version, these songs were flawlessly combined. If you had not heard either song before you would think that it was all one song.
Ronnie Booth gets the feature throughout most of this song. You would think that Ronnie’s voice would not really fit into the Praise and Worship type feel of this song, but he shows his amazing versatility here. His voice is one of the smoothest in the business, and he enunciates his words like no one else. Musically it is given a slower acoustic feel that really compliments the lyrics nicely. The Booth Brothers have covered Contemporary hits before (see “Crucified With Christ”), and here they tackle two in one and make them their own. I really like this medley and I can’t wait to see it sung live.
Daniel: In our genre, the Rick Webb Family and the Childress Family have also both released versions of the song. But after Lauren Talley released what will be a signature arrangement several months ago, I was inclined to think nobody else in our genre should touch the song.
I was wrong.
While the Booth Brothers don’t match the climactic intensity of the triumphal third verse in Lauren Talley’s arrangement, they take the song in a different direction, different enough to make it their own. There is more than enough room in the genre for versions so different—and so equally powerful.
Aaron: I was curious as to how this cover of “In Christ Alone” would sound. The arrangement itself is very similar to the Phillips, Craig, & Dean version a few years back, blending the Newsboys song with the Michael English hit. However, the big, Lari Goss orchestrated sound gives the song a flavor of it’s own. Michael Booth absolutely nails his solo phrase when the Michael English version starts, adding all the more to the powerful sound on this track.
Wes: While the two songs share a title, rhythmically they are very different, and I was a bit concerned about the transition from one to the other, but with the genius of Goss doing the arranging, I should have known better. Both the praise chorus and English’s CCM hit are incredible tunes, and this medley doesn’t disappoint in combining them. It’s one of the most powerful songs on the project.
Phil: It is interesting how two very different songs can be married together with such brilliance. “In Christ Alone (My Hope is Found)” would probably be my favourite contemporary song. I am a big fan of Michael English and his CCM version of “In Christ Alone”. To then have Ronnie Booth’s fabulously smooth voice thread the two songs together, it creates a powerful medley. This has to be my personal favourite on the project, although it was very hard to single out one!
Bonus Track (Statement of Faith)
Phil: Statement of Faith is a great song. Lyrically, as the title suggests, it sets out what Christians believe. I feel that this song, placed at the end, as a bonus track, really ties together what the Booth Brothers set out to achieve in the making of this project. They wanted to make to set out their beliefs and Statement of Faith allows them to do that.
Daniel: While the song was not on my pre-release copy, it is the same song as Legacy Five included on Just Stand (with the Booth Brothers, Greater Vision, and the Hoppers)—though for Declaration, the Booth Brothers cut their own vocals for the verses.
Daniel: A Higher Throne, God Did it All, We Believe, I See Grace.
Nate: A Higher Throne, I See Grace, We Believe, Before The Cross.
Aaron: A Higher Throne, God Did It All, I See Grace, Before The Cross.
Phil: I See Grace, This Is The Day, Absolute Peace, In Christ Alone.
Brandon: A Higher Throne, God Did It All, I See Grace, This Is The Day/I’m Gonna Keep On Singing
Wes: A Higher Throne, God Did It All, I See Grace, Absolute Peace
Daniel: Every now and then, a group will release a landmark project that raises the bar for that group. Declaration raises the bar for Southern Gospel.
Nate: I agree with Daniel about the raising of the bar… This album blazes new trails in some respects for the Booth Brothers, who are more known for their country sounding flair drenched with their rich harmonies. Here they take the big ballad approach by storm. While still throwing in some songs that harken back to their more well known musical style. The Booth Brothers really show off their versatility and ability to tackle any style of song on this album. Their pairing with Lari Goss was perfect, and he really added alot to this album as he does for any group. This is a great album that every fan of Southern Gospel should add to their collection.
Aaron: It has been said that whenever Lari Goss is involved in something, it turns to gold. But what happens when he works with a group who is already considered “gold,” consistently sweeping the Fan Awards year after year? Declaration is the result of that collaboration. This project has it all; stellar song choice and vocals, great sound, and unique arrangements. The pairing of the Booth Brothers tight harmonies and Goss’ lush orchestrations was a match made in Heaven.
Only time will tell whether this will be counted among both Goss’ and the Booth Brothers’ greatest products, but if I could take a guess, I’d say this would be a solid candidate.
Phil: A project which is simply unique. The quality of the orchestrations are magnificent. Lari Goss has the talent which many will simply dream of having. Lari Goss has the ability to create music that perfectly suits whatever group he is working with. This is evident with Declaration. The vocals are perfect and the lyrical content of the songs adds a further dimension. If the project had a sprinkling of more up-tempo songs to add a little variety, I’d be naming this as one of the best Southern Gospel projects in recent years.
Brandon: I have a feeling that I’m going to be the lone dissenting voice when I say that I like the pieces (individual tracks) more than the project as a whole. Every track found on the project is phenomenal, but when I look at the complete project, I’m left slightly disappointed. Lari Goss’ orchestrations are out of this world, but when hit with them one after another, the songs begin to run together. I have found that I enjoy the CD more when I listen to the first half, take a break, and then finish listening to the CD. I think a large part of that is a lack of fast songs on the project. If the big orchestrated songs were interspersed more with uptempo tracks, I think I would have enjoyed the project a lot more. With that said, I still think Declaration is a great project, probably one of the year’s best, but it just misses what it could have been.
Wes: I understand Brandon’s points above, and they are valid. The fact that each song has an “in your face” arrangement can be overwhelming. There really could have been one or two more fast songs included to give the album a little more variety. That being said, I couldn’t imagine removing any of the tracks that are there. Each track is a standout in its own right. The Booth Brothers have always been known for their smooth, rich harmonies, and to pair that ability with the creative genius that is Lari Goss is almost too good to be true. The songs on this project more than live up to that massive potential. This will go down as a landmark album, at least for the Booth Brothers as an artist, and quite possibly in the industry as well. The same things may be said about this project in 15 years or so that we currently hear said about projects like Pillars of Faith by Gold City or Symphony of Praise by the Cathedrals. The listener is just drenched in breathtaking arrangements, strong lyrics, and gorgeous harmonies. Yes, it’s that good.