Album Review: Grace Says (Kingsmen)

The latest release by the Kingsmen, Grace Says, is the first with the current lineup of vocalists, since the return of Randy Crawford to the quartet.  The sound of the Kingsmen has always been defined by their tenors, and that is still the case today.  Harold Reed has been with the group long enough so that their vocal blend is well-defined and well-refined.

While the Kingsmen’s sound has reached a point of stability, I’m not so sure that is the case for their style.  In the last few years, most notably with their hit “When God Ran,” the quartet has shown glimpses of a more progressive direction compared to their traditional quartet heritage.  Grace Says has some of the most progressive songs the Kingsmen have recorded, but also includes a healthy dose of traditional quartet flavor.  While variety on a recording is a positive thing, in this case it’s a little confusing to my ear.  It’s one thing for a group to make a traditional quartet recording with a progressive number tossed in to add a twist, or for a progressive quartet to throw in a convention song as a nod to gospel music tradition.  In both cases, the audience and listener largely know what to expect when they attend a concert or purchase a CD.  Southern gospel fans aren’t usually the type who want to be surprised or who anticipate what the group will do next.  Whether right or wrong, most of them want to hear a certain thing.

All that said, the Kingsmen do sound very good on this album.  In my opinion, they sound their very best on the more traditional numbers.  “That’s All I Need,” the first single from the project, is a standout song with a driving country style, just the sort of thing you think of when you hear “Kingsmen.”  The other of the strongest songs is “Loving Shepherd, Gracious God,” a beautiful Dianne Wilkinson mid-tempo number featuring Ray Dean Reese.  It reminds me very much in the chorus of the Inspirations’ “The Son Came Down,” only with a more acoustic, country feel.  “Oh, What a Hallelujah Day” is a delightful new convention-style song with weaving counterpoints throughout.

Other strong performances include “I Can Hardly Wait,” another driving uptempo number, and “If Not for the Love of Christ,” an excellent mid-tempo ballad previously recorded by Triumphant Quartet.  “I Knew It Was Him” is a slow ballad about the salvation experience, featuring a stellar vocal performance from Reed.  A cover of the convention classic “After the Sunrise” rounds out the traditional side of the ledger.  It includes the not-oft sung second and third verses, with lyrical gems like “love-light will banish sin’s vapors like scum,” “even the clanish together will hum,” and “cease all your hating, be changing your views.”  It also includes the predictable, yet still pleasing, tenor-led modulation on the turnaround.

“Back to Grace,” “Ordinary Man,” and “Grace Says” are the three songs that dive most into the progressive arena.  The first two, both uptempo, are the most likely to have a traditional quartet fan reaching for the skip button, but also the most likely to appeal to an audience that leans toward a contemporary sound.  The latter is a ballad that is not as “in-your-face” and better showcases the quartet’s vocal talents.   I have the same lyrical issue with all three: they contain good concepts of the nature of grace, love, peace, and heaven, but the lyrics don’t spend much time on the source of all those things for us, which is the Lord Jesus Christ.  I’d personally prefer a more clear gospel message.

There are seven songs out of ten on Grace Says that I really enjoyed, and three that I didn’t so much enjoy.  That’s not all that uncommon when I listen to a CD, and I’m sure most gospel music fans would say the same.  I would prefer a more consistent stylistic and lyrical direction from the Kingsmen, and any other group.  I think it’s obvious which direction I would choose, but that is the choice of the groups and their audience.  Overall, there is a strong vocal sound, and enough strong individual songs to merit Grace Says four stars.

Album Rating: 4 Stars

Song list:

  1. Back to Grace (Joseph Habedank/Matthew Holt)
  2. Oh, What a Hallelujah Day (Jerry Kelso/Amy Keffer Shellem)
  3. I Knew It Was Him (Habedank/Holt)
  4. That’s All I Need (Habedank)
  5. Grace Says (Jon Garrett/Sue C. Smith)
  6. Ordinary Man (Habedank/Joel Lindsey)
  7. I Can Hardly Wait (Chris Binion/Brian Principe/Donna Norton)
  8. If Not for the Love of Christ (Jeff Silvey/Tony Wood)
  9. After the Sunrise (J.R. Baxter/Eugene Wright)
  10. Loving Shepherd, Gracious God (Dianne Wilkinson)

Release Date: 7/19

Available: Crossroads

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