The Perrys: Living a Life of Love

Rather than a review, let’s call this a revisitation (though, I’m posting this in the reviews section as well). I’ve waited this long in part because I was on quite a Perrys kick for a while after NQC. Until recently, I haven’t thought my perspective was even-keeled enough to speak as honestly about the project as I might. Certainly, even now that the afterglow is wearing off, there is still much to recommend here: Loren Harris is so astounding. He lays down melodic lines with complete authority, placing himself immediately among the ranks of Great Leads without descending into imitation. Libbi Perry has learned to texturize her voice, make it more supple and less reliant on the sheer diaphragmatic oomph that she was once so wont to do not too many years ago when The Perrys tended to wind up shouting an awful lot of their stuff from the stage (though they were really fine shouters, of course). And the song selection here is in many ways a marvel of its own. Kyla Rowland’s “But I Met a Nazarene” hops right along with the practiced reliability of Rowland is known for (and this song includes some super sweet bass playing). Wayne Haun and Geron Davis’s “His Grace Will Lead Me” contains a clever, tasteful little tenor sax whose sound emblematizes the song’s general suavity (which makes the sloppy vocals all the more regrettable: several phrases end uncleanly, with various lazily staggered endings on words such as “grace” and “assurance” hissing out their need to more carefully coordinated like a quartet of stuttering snakes). Rodney Griffin’s “Life of Love” is, to my ear, a bland affair, too snoozy and fuzzy-edged to take hold anywhere and too redolent of the half-baked existentialism that bogs down songs by someone like Gloria Gaither, but when Griffin sticks to mid-tempo clippers (”My Name is Lazarus,” “Go Ask,” “Just One More Soul,” and, here, “I am the Water”) he’s pure gold, which is what I meant way back when I said he was the Mosie Lister of his generation. Overall, Living a Life of Love’s mix of songs - contemporary and traditional, quick and slow, ballad and toe-tapper - is a nice one. My complaint with the project is that it suffers from multiple vocal tonality disorder. No sound that could easily and consistently be called The Perrys’ coheres on the project. On “I Am the Water”, the Perrys sound like a four-part Greater Vision (which is always the dangerous downside of buying a mid-tempo Rodney Griffin song, alas). “City Not Made with Hands” sounds like a serviceable imitation of the Nelons in their Manhattan Transfer mode. “Jesus Opened up the Way” and “David and Goliath” reach back to ’60s standards to retrofit the Perry’s sound with the patina of retrospection, and they turn in fine performances, but there’s nothing substantially remarkable about these tunes. The only place where I’m tempted to say “that’s the Perrys and not the Perrys sounding like someone else” is “I Will Find You Again,” which has moments when it reconnects tonally with the underlying genius of the earlier “Calvary Answers For Me.” This shouldn’t be shocking since the deft and golden touch of Joel Lindsey is on both of the tunes. But the Perrys sustain in these two songs the closest to anything I feel confident identifying as The Perrys Sound. More than likely, this lack of tonal coherence has to do with the reconceptualization of the group that the Stuffles undertook a few years back. And though the Perrys Have Arrived, Living a Life of Love also makes clear there’s still plenty of space left for them to establish themselves more solidly.

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