Rediscovered (an occasional aria on some forgotten favorite)

Hoppers Classics: Live in Greenville. With the exception of the Cathedrals’ Live in Atlanta, this may be the best live album of southern gospel. That’s not because it’s flawless – Kim Hopper does an especially disappointing job on “Anchor to the Power,” and Claude Hopper talks entirely too much. But what the recording gets right far outweighs these imperfections. For one, the song selection is magnificent (if one must endure solos by Connie and Claude, “Go Ask” and “On My Journey Home” are the best one could hope for, and more important, old standards are balanced against the Hoppers’ signature tunes). This isn’t, by itself, that remarkable. But the arranging is so good it makes me wanna run somewhere. The ending of “Here I Am,” to cite just one example, combines the pleasurable delay of long resolutions with subtle harmonic voicing – Connie’s alto drops out for half a beat, returning to repeat the song’s ultimate lyric (“Lord, here I am”), marvelously, subtlely completing the move from dissonance to consonance. And the modulation toward the middle of “It’s Time” is an endangered species of arranging: a key-change downward, using a fairly complex series of common-chord structures, allows Kim to take the lead (and notice how expertly she establishes the new leading tone after the modulation with a little diphthong-flourish on the end of the world “miracle”). Rarely will an intricate exercise in music theory create enough dramatic tension to bring an audience to its feet, but that’s precisely what happens here – without, it’s worth noting, any vocal histrionics or other forms of self-indulgent grandstanding often used to get a rise out of a southern gospel audience. The five-song stretch at the heart of the recording – beginning with “Heavenly Sunrise” and ending with “When He Comes Down” – manages to sustain an emotional and performative intensity burnished by the discipline and elegance that the Hoppers bring to most everything they do (a deep and satisfying consolation for me whenever I have the misfortune of seeing the galloping hysterics of, say, McCray Dove or Andrew Ishee). There is much more to say about this fine project: the inimitable attention to detail (listen to the pronunciation of words like milk – “meeeeiilk” the Hoppers say); Connie Hopper’s pitch-perfect ear and first-class sense of timing (to say nothing of the richness and depth of her harmonies); Claude Hopper’s genius to have himself arranged out all but a few key moments in a Hopper performance (which is to say, the Hoppers are essentially a trio with an emcee). But all that is secondary to the magisterial brilliance of the performance itself. You ought to own this project.

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