On degrees of greatness

Since Devon McGlamery announced his move from the Dixie Melody Boys to Karen Peck and New River a few weeks back, there’s been plenty of discussion and consternation - of the latter, especially from old quartet types who assume any non-quartet gig is a step down. On one basic level, that sort of talk is nonsense. KPNR is classy outfit with a solid reputation, and fans love KP. Hard to see how someone who wants to sing sg with a group that takes its work as seriously as McGlamery does could possible lose by this kind of move. And on pure level exposures, being one of three people in the upper echelon of second-tier groups is better than being one or four or five people in a quartet consistently at the bottom of the top-tier quartets. If you’re a youngish sg performer looking for creative work that allows you to sing more than the narrow range of traditional sg song forms and gives you a potentially breakout role in your career, then you take the KPNR job without question. What does give me pause is KPNR’s prolonged failure to move out of the second-tier of sg groups and into the artist’s circle of top-notch acts (Greater Vision, Gold City, L5, SSQ, Janet Paschal, the Perrys, the Hoppers, and so on). The tragic truth of KPNR is that the group seems self-exiled in the wilderness of their own unrealized ambition. How did this happen? Three factors.

1) Part of the problem is KPNR’s material, which has just stunk to high heaven too much of the time. KP’s great songs have been few and far between acres and acres of mediocre tunes languishing in the arid wasteland between inspirational and sg - and the result is nondescript mediocrity, no matter how dazzlingly KP renders the songs themselves. Perhaps her label, Spring Hill, is somewhat to blame here, since her time with Spring Hill has been marked by a steady and recurrent move toward these generic inspo-y songs that really have no heart (note to Spring Hill: update your artist pages). KP is an sg woman through and through, and I think that’s where she needs to stay. But don’t take my word for it. Look at the record: KPNR is still riding the tide of “Four Days Late” more than three years after it was released. Lazarus won’t be the only one in need of resurrection if they keep relying on that tune for much longer. It’s more than a little baffling that KP (and Spring Hill) can’t look at what’s been successful, analyze it, and recreate that success.

2) Another, and more important, aspect of the problem is structural and stylistic: KP is essentially a soloist (on stage and on recordings), and it’s really difficult for a soloist, especially female ones, to make it in sg. This is not just because of the stigma attached to soloism is sg, but also because it’s a rare bird who can emcee, sing lead on every song (every song), and still keep fans wanting to hear more with the intensity necessary to keep a group at the top of the charts and their game.

3) Which leads us to the last facet of the issue: KP can’t keep a male vocalist around for any sustained time, and the ones that have been around have never really gelled, or clicked or whatever - maybe because they haven’t been around long enough, but also because KP has yet to hire (or in Paul Lancaster’s case, keep) a first-class male vocalist. If KP would hire and retain an amazing male singer, one who could carry at least a third of the leads, then when KP did step up to the plate she would blow everybody away. Of course, this would require more careful and diverse song selection (see #1 above), and it would require KP to step out of spotlight a little (see #2 above). But I’m not at all sure that would be anything other than good. There is absolutely no diversity to what KPNR does - it’s all about her. Which would be fine, if she were a real solo act, but she’s not. If she wants to be, she should get rid oF her sister and whoever happens to be singing the male part at the time, and go solo. But since she hasn’t done that and shows no signs of doing so, she needs to get serious about becoming a bonafide trio rather than a Star with two vocalists orbiting her. Paul Lancaster could have been the kind of amazing male voice capable of balancing (which is not the same as matching or exceeding) KP. For whatever reason (and I suspect the main reason was a financial one), he didn’t stay. And if money is the problem, then a Catch 22 kinda thing takes hold: if we paid a male singer more, we could do better records and better concerts and get more money, but we don’t have the money to pay a male singer more because we don’t have better records and better concerts and the money that comes with them.

It’s hard to imagine Spring Hill not having advised KP to take one of the many opportunities presented by the regular resignation of a male vocalist from KPNR to revamp the group, take NR to the next level. But then, it’s also not difficult to see KP being unwilling to fire her sister and fork out the money it would take to replace both Susan and hire the kind of male vocalist for the group that Lancaster could have been. Of course one can always hope that McGlamery will prove to be precisely the kind of male vocalist KPNR needs to break through to the top, even though I don’t see how or why McGlamery would have any incentive to stay with KPNR should he actually ever emerge as a real star with her. More fundamentally, it’s asking a lot to expect more than second-string work from people so obviously assigned the kind of second-fiddle roles McGlamery and KP’s sister have. But there’s too much talent lurking around the trio not to hold out hope that KPNR may yet - by luck or design - ascend to the upper reaches of sg and, most important, fulfill the great promise so obviously latent within KPNR.

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