Producer: Jamie Brantley
Label: Music City Music Group
Song titles: We’re On A Roll; God Fearin’ Family Man; That’s What Love Looks Like; Wherever God Is Moving; Hillbilly Haircut; It Took A Man Like That; Are You Ready?; It Takes Faith; It Might As Well Be Me; Graceland; It Ain’t Over ‘Til God Says It’s Over; Have A Good Time; Tennessee Orange; Bible Story
Every now and then, a group comes along in Southern Gospel music that, for any number of reasons, stand out in the crowd. There’s no denying that they’re part of the genre, but something about them sets them apart from the norm. Whether it’s their sound, the way they present themselves, or something else, it’s a factor that’s out of the box. A good example would be Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, especially in their Get Away, Jordan era. Even the album art for that project turned heads, and if you’re judging a book by its cover, this latest effort from Mark209 will grab your attention based on the picture alone.
As unique as the image is, the musical component for the project is even more so. I appreciate a group that has a sound that leaves no doubt as to who it is, and they have laid the groundwork for becoming an instantly recognizable group on the radio. Songs like “Wherever God Is Moving,” “It Takes Faith,” and “Have A Good Time” have a punchy, driving flavor that works well for the voices in the group, both individually and as a unit.
That’s not to say that the whole project is that way; there is plenty more laid-back fare here that showcases a smoother, tighter-blended side to the quartet. “It Took A Man Like That” may have been snatched up by Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, but the performances from the two groups are so vastly different that Mark209 should consider it as a radio release. “That’s What Love Looks Like” is probably the most “mainstream SG” sounding song on the project, and features strong performances from each member. “Tennessee Orange” is a beautiful patriotic number that lets baritone Bryan James Hatton shine. Lead singer Jym Howe turns in a tender performance on “It Ain’t Over ‘Til God Says It’s Over,” “Are You Ready?” is a nice, smooth vehicle for bass Ray Woconish, and tenor Nathaniel Justice has a strong feature on “Graceland,” which some may remember from The Mike Bowling Group.
The engineering and producing for this project should have a special mention. The production value found here brought to mind David Bruce Murray’s comments on the mix found on Driven Quartet’s self-titled release. His words perfectly capture what I thought while listening to this project, so I quote:
“In closing, I’d also like to mention the mix. It isn’t perfect, and that’s a good thing. The vocals aren’t overly tweaked and polished. They’re pretty tight, but it sounds natural rather than robotic. Sometimes a phrase isn’t perfectly aligned, but that actually sounds better when it’s very close.”
Nobody’s vocal is buried in the mix, even on a song like “Wherever God Is Moving,” which has such a loud sound musically that either burying is likely to happen or the noise level would be unbearable. Thankfully, neither is the case. The project’s balance is good, and the unpolished vocals give the music a live feel without being sloppy. Polish is a good thing, but too much is not, and the voices found here work together better without over-sanitization.
While not every song was a home run (“God Fearin’ Family Man” and “Hillbilly Haircut” fit musically, but weren’t nearly as strong lyrically), this is one of the stronger quartet releases of 2013, and there is no reason not to give this group a try. On A Roll receives 4.5 stars.