Aaron Swain's blog about Southern Gospel Music, News, and other items of interest in the SG world.

CD Review: Three Bridges – Christmas Must Be Tonight

December 21, 2011 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, SG Artists, SG Music, Three Bridges

Rating: 3 stars

Producer: Rick Sandidge
Label: The Mansion Entertainment
Website: www.threebridges.net

This trio gets the distinction of being the only group to have a Christmas project come across my desk for review this year. I was looking forward to hearing another CD by Three Bridges, since I was so impressed with their last effort, and after reading a review of this particular one at Musicscribe shortly after receiving the project in the mail, my interest was even piqued.

Kicking it all off is the upbeat, light rock-tinged title track featuring lead singer Shannon Smith. This style seems to be the one that the group clicks the most with. The song takes three perspectives: a traveler going to see the newborn Jesus, the shepherds on the hillside, and someone dreaming on the night of Jesus’ birth. Though the lyrics do seem random in this way, the song ties them together well, and this is one of my personal favorite tracks.

The Drifters’ arrangement of “White Christmas” comes next, reuniting Smith and tenor Jeremie Hudson with their former Imperials partner, Ian Owens, as a guest bass vocalist. Though it would have made it impossible for the group to do this song live had Owens gotten the feature as the original arrangement dictates (the bass got the first verse and standout lines on the chorus in The Drifters version), part of me wishes he had gotten it instead of being confined to background vocals. Baritone Elliott McCoy takes those features instead, with Hudson taking the second verse. Owens shows up at background vocals again on “Mary Had A Baby.” The sound on both of these tracks sounds remarkably like the later versions of The Imperials, especially when Smith and Hudson start ad-libbing on “Mary Had A Baby.”

Other high points include “Mary Did You Know,” which follows the Gaither Vocal Band arrangement pretty closely but showcases the beautiful high harmony of the group, an uptempo arrangement of “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” that is probably the most unique I’ve heard in quite a while, a mellow Hudson feature in “He Came Here For Me,” and another unique arrangement of a classic carol in “Noel.”

As a whole, Christmas projects are something that I can take or leave. Unless they offer something different from the stuff that usually permeates the airwaves this time of year, you can count me out. Three Bridges offers enough interesting arrangements and songs that haven’t been recorded by everybody and their brother that it has earned multiple plays on my iPod and in my car. Though not every song is a solid choice, this CD is a fine effort. If you’re a Three Bridges fan, or just want another Christmas collection to play every year, Christmas Must Be Tonight is a good choice.

CD Review: Three Bridges – Refined

October 02, 2010 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, SG Artists, SG Music, Three Bridges

Rating: 4 stars

Producer: Rick Sandidge
Label: Mansion Entertainment
Website: www.threebridges.net

Track list: “David,” “Satan and Grandma,” “In The Valley There’s A Rock,” “Cooling Water,” “Not The Great I Was,” “Don’t Let Go,” “Everyday It Starts All Over Again,” “Wait On That Mountain To Move,” “I Believe,” “A Little Song Coming On,” “In The Sky,” “Free”

Three Bridges is a group whose name has been around for several years in Southern Gospel music. The trio debuted in 2002 with the Soldiers album, and from there went on to get nominations for awards such as the 2005 and 2006 Trio Of The Year in the Singing News Fan Awards, as well as have great radio success, garnering seven Top 10 singles and three #1 singles.

Other than the occasional appearance on TBN and a couple spins on the radio, I was not all that familiar with the group going into this review. I can remember hearing most of their stuff and not being entirely impressed. However, a lineup change earlier this year gave the Three Bridges sound a complete overhaul. Baritone and group manager Elliott McCoy filled the tenor and lead positions with Jeremie Hudson and Shannon Smith, respectively. Those two names should be recognizable to fans of The Imperials, as both of those men were with the group a couple years ago.  The change was met with a largely positive reception, and I can’t put it any better than fellow blogger David Bruce Murray did when he said that Three Bridges “went from a group I wouldn’t drive across town to hear to one I’d drive an hour or more to hear.” Refined is the first effort from this new lineup.

In a situation such as this where a group has had numerous hits and have a shakeup of this caliber, the best move is to make a release with covers of those hits as well as some new material. This way, their fan base can hear how the new voices handle the old material, but are introduced to the group having a new sound all their own. Refined does exactly that. The project wisely starts off with two new songs. The opening track, “David,” is an upbeat tune featuring lead Shannon Smith, as well as some tight harmony on the choruses. The next new song, “Satan and Grandma,” is an interesting country ballad about the power of prayer that tenor Jeremie Hudson delivers to fine effect. Just from these two songs, anyone even remotely familiar with Three Bridges can tell that the sound is something completely new for the group.

For the next nine tracks, many of the groups better-known songs are covered. Vocally, the group definitely turned it up a notch from the previous forms of Three Bridges. Hudson and Smith still have the dynamic harmony that they had with The Imperials, (check out “Not The Great I Was,” where the two hit a couple of David Phelps & Guy Penrod-esque chords) and baritone Elliott McCoy blends well with their voices, and the new versions of these songs blow the originals out of the water. The only downside to this is the fact that most of the group’s hits featured the lead singer and had a similar sound, so after hearing Smith’s voice on a lot of songs that sound close to the same, it starts to run together. The only old track that doesn’t feature Smith is “I Believe,” a slow, soft song near the end of the album featuring Hudson. A new track, “Free,” brings this CD to a close. It’s a progressive track that features a guitar in the mix with riffs similar to that from rock group Santana’s “Smooth” and a sound that recalls, coincidentally, something that a recent Imperials lineup would do.

Final thoughts: I was very impressed with the sound displayed here. The only real complaint I have is the one I addressed earlier: most of the covers sound alike, so it runs together. Nevertheless, this new chapter of the group sounds fantastic throughout, and I am looking forward to hearing future efforts from them.

Bottom line: Refined solidifies this lineup as a breath of fresh air in the history of Three Bridges, improving upon the group’s previous material as well as introducing new songs that show what the group can do on their own.