Producer: Billy Blackwood
Label: Daywind Records
Song titles: Goodbye Egypt (Hello Canaanland); Swing Low, Sweet Chariot/Swing Down Chariot; Sweet Songs About Heaven; That’s What Was Good About the Good Old Days; It Is No Secret; I’ve Heard About a City/Walk Dem Golden Stairs; Declaration of Dependence; That’s What Heaven Will Be; Someone to Care; The Devil Can’t Harm a Prayin’ Man
The name Blackwood is synonymous with Southern Gospel music, with an influence that has been around for most of the existence of this genre. The lasting influence is impressive enough, but add that to the fact that the group has still been going strong under the leadership of the sons of James Blackwood and you have something even more commendable. This project features the lineup of tenor Wayne Little, lead Jimmy Blackwood, baritone Billy Blackwood, and bass Butch Owens. Since this project’s release, Jimmy retired and Michael Helwig has stepped into the lead position. Other than the value of having Jimmy Blackwood’s final project with the group, how does this project measure up in quality?
The Blackwood sons seem to be playing a safe strategy with their music, leading a time-honored name into the modern recording era without forsaking the traditional Gospel quartet sound that has been cultivated in the group’s 75+ year history. On this recording, that ideal translates to mostly straight-ahead covers of classics, but there’s not much to complain about in terms of vocal sound. I would have liked a little more creativity involved in the covers of songs such as “It Is No Secret” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot/Swing Down Chariot,” as they really don’t cover new ground in terms of arrangement, but the singing is quality enough that it’s not really an issue.
The highlights of this project come in the new songs found here. Wayne Little and Billy Blackwood turn in the finest features with “Sweet Songs About Heaven” and “Declaration of Dependence,” respectively. Blackwood’s feature, in particular, was surprisingly strong; those who heard the group’s previous project, The Song Will Go On, got to hear plenty of Little and the others, but Billy Blackwood stayed mostly in the blend, only really being heard on a couple of standout lines. It was a pleasant surprise to hear how his vocal presence has developed, and I would not be surprised to hear “Declaration of Dependence” as a radio single. New bass Butch Owens also had a strong showing with good solo verses on “That’s What Was Good About the Good Old Days” and “Someone to Care.”
If you’re looking for a project full of groundbreaking material, Sweet Songs About Heaven isn’t it, but solid quartet singing on a mix of old and new songs is just what this CD delivers, besides having sentimental value as Jimmy Blackwood’s last project before retiring. It’s not easy to bring a group with such a long legacy into the present day without dwelling in the past, but this project is a solid step in that direction, and it deserves its 4 star rating.