Rating: 3.5 stars
Producer: Glen Bates
Label: BSA World Records
In 2005, a new quartet of young guys came on the Southern Gospel scene. They were Crystal River, and they garnered some well-deserved with their sound. They eventually signed with BSA World Records, and released the much-underrated project, Taking A Stand. When baritone Jeff Snyder left to join Mike & Kelly Bowling (and later, The Greenes), and bass singer Jeremy Lile left to join Brian Free & Assurance, the group hired baritone Chris Whitaker and continued as a trio, releasing Hope Is Alive in 2007. The group then folded when Zack McGill sold the group and came off the road, with tenor Dusty Barrett going to Soul’d Out Quartet, and Chris Whitaker going from Mike & Kelly Bowling, to N’Harmony, and finally off the road. The group’s record label eventually hired an acapella group named ChoZen to become the “new” Crystal River, and this project is the new lineup’s debut.
Mercy River is a fair mix of new songs and songs that the previous Crystal River lineups recorded. The title track itself comes from the Taking A Stand project, with the key being dropped a full step and the lead being handed to lead vocalist Tony Churchill. The key dropping thing happens also in “Faith Takes A Stand.” Other covers include, “Hope Is Alive,” “Jesus Is Always Doing Something,” “There Is A Hope,” and “I Stand In Awe.” The latter is tenor Ben Mooney’s stand-out feature on the project, and he does a good job of making the song his own.
The project’s new songs are good as well, but they seem to run together. “Jesus Wake Up,” “A Little Bit A What I Got,” and “Hole in the Sky” are all in the upbeat country style, with no real distinguishing characteristics. While “Everyday Is Christmas” is a nice Christmas-themed song, it seems out of place on this project, and probably would have been better placed as a bonus track. The album closer is an a capella track written by Tony Churchill named “Here With Me.” It shows the group’s roots as a primarily vocal group, complete with some beat-boxing by baritone Randy Gober.
Bottom line: This new lineup of Crystal River has great promise. Tenor Ben Mooney, lead Tony Churchill, and baritone Randy Gober have a good sound, but it is obvious that they were still getting used to a lot of new material when this project was recorded. It’s a “middle of the road” project; those already familiar with Crystal River music may not be impressed, but those uninitiated will find plenty to like. A new project with more original pieces and a bit more variety in style and songwriting (all songs except the last track were written by Glen Bates) would serve this group well.
I am looking forward to future efforts from this trio.