The latest Crossroads release from Barry Rowland & Deliverance is another strong collection of mostly Kyla Rowland songs, sung in a straight-ahead Appalachian style. Deliverance’s 2012 release, Make Mine the Real Thing, earned a very high rating from me, and was one of my top three albums of the year. This year’s offering, He’s Alive, is a worthy follow-up, and another must-have for fans of what I like to call “just plain gospel sangin’”.
While Real Thing contained several remarkably strong mid-tempo numbers, He’s Alive infuses energy with a few more fast songs. Included among those are the only two on the album not written by Kyla Rowland. “He’s Alive” and “He’s Still God,” written by Harvey Gene Smith, are similar in pace and style, and both are delightful. Some fans may be familiar with the former, which has been recorded a few times, perhaps most notably by the Jody Brown Indian Family (under the title “Praise God, He’s Alive”). One of the most enjoyable tracks on the album, it is an excellent choice for an opener, and features lead-singing dynamo Shawn Rupert.
Speaking of Rupert, his is the unique voice around which Deliverance’s sound is built. He is one of the best vocalists in gospel music that many fans have never heard of. His “mountain soul” delivery brings to mind Michael English, except with a stark southern accent, and I love it. My personal favorite track on this album, “We’ll Go Down Standing Up” is right in Rupert’s wheelhouse, and he hits it out of the park. I dare you to try to listen to that groove without bobbing your head a little bit. And what a great message of encouragement! Rupert shows off his very impressive range on “Death Had to Let Him Go,” a power ballad based around Jesus “crashing” the funeral of a young man of Nain, and putting an end to the proceedings by raising him. Shawn delivers the goods while spanning just over two octaves, a rare feat for any singer in one song.
Rupert’s other features are also highlights of the recording. A bright toe-tapper, “Fear for Faith,” will get in your head easily, and you won’t mind. A tender ballad in Mrs. Kyla’s familiar slow-paced and poignant style, “Sweet Things Out of Dark Places” captures the wonderful message of Isaiah 45:3: “And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.” The mid-tempo album closer, “What a Wonderful Time (To Be a Christian),” though it was written at least 20 years ago, is a timely message of encouragement for Christians living in these days. The verses paint a bleak picture of modern society, but the chorus reminds us of the Blessed Hope of the last days, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. I don’t know much about why singles are chosen, but I would personally love for that song to reach people across the country on gospel radio.
Rounding out the song selection on He’s Alive are three slower tracks featuring Barry’s wife, Tammy. (Barry himself doesn’t get any features this time around, save a few step-out lines in the chorus of “He’s Still God”.) She is a very capable vocalist in the alto range, or in higher pitches, as Rupert’s lead often pushes her up there. And I believe she is at her best on these slower songs with moving lyrics of edification and worship. Among these three, my favorite is “No Place That Far,” which has a powerful and well-arranged ending.
While I am still partial to last year’s dynamic collection of songs on Make Mine the Real Thing, He’s Alive is right up there with it, and in some respects, especially vocally, I believe exceeds it. I don’t claim to be all that well-versed in technique, production, and creativity. What I do know is that the music recorded by Barry Rowland & Deliverance, especially that from the pen of Kyla Rowland, stirs and encourages my soul. If you want that, and I hope you do, I highly recommend this recording, and I highly recommend this group.
(Today just happens to be Barry Rowland’s birthday! If you read this, hope it’s a great one, and thanks for your service to the Lord!)
Rating: 4.5 stars
- He’s Alive (Harvey Gene Smith)
- Simply Because I Believe (Kyla Rowland)
- Death Had to Let Him Go (Kyla Rowland)
- Fear for Faith (Kyla Rowland)
- No Place That Far (Kyla Rowland)
- We’ll Go Down Standing Up (Kyla Rowland)
- God Has Been Good to Me (Kyla Rowland)
- He’s Still God (Harvey Gene Smith)
- Sweet Things Out of Dark Places (Kyla Rowland)
- What A Wonderful Time (To Be a Christian) (Kyla Rowland)