CONCERT REVIEW: Booths, Talleys, Greater Vision

Date: Sunday, November 3
Location: Orlando, Florida
Setting: First Baptist Church, Orlando
Occasion: FBC-O Free Gospel Concert event
Average age guesstimate: 58
Opening act: mercifully, none, but while I killed time before the show, I found this wonderful note scrawled in child’s script inside the Praise! Our Songs and Hymns book in the book rack: “OZZIE: Where is my gameboy? If you don’t give it back, I will tell dad YOU brought it.”
Attendance: an usher guessed 2500-3000; it felt to me like less, but I’m notoriously bad at these things (for instance, before I talked to the usher, I would have guessed 800, so take all this for what it’s worth).
Cost: Free, with love offering, but I’d have gladly paid a flat ticket price if that would have kept the FBC-O staff sitting behind me in a sound booth from talking really really loudly through most of the first two sets – even with senior pastoral staff standing right there. Not classy. And another thing, while we’re on the topic of things you don’t get to do just because it’s a love-offering affair: syncopated clapping? NOT cool.

THE BOOTHS

The lineup went this way: Booths, Talleys, Greater Vision, and obviously the point here was that GV was the headliner. But when Michael Booth joked that “we’re so glad the Talleys and Greater Vision could be here to close our program tonight,” it ended up – after all three sets were done – being a kind of deadpan prophecy. Musically, this was a Booth Brothers & Friends concert. From the start, the Booths nailed the first note of “His Grace is Sufficient,” the sound expertly mixed and fully balanced. After three nights of hearing one knobbed intro and botched pick up after another at NQC, first-class beginnings are sadly not something one can take for granted in gospel music. But this was not just a comment on how inexpertly most sound techs run shows these days. The point is that the Booths come out vocally confident, but not stridently or too loudly, as so many groups do in the first few bars while they try to find their notes.

The ensemble sound that the Booths have nearly perfected masterfully molds each phrase to the musical thought – the attack and release so finely calibrated and blended. It’s as if the lyrics dissolve into a finely knit fabric of feeling textured as much by the dynamics of their voices as by the harmonics. That is, how they sing is at least as important as what they’re singing. There’s energy here – a great deal of it, in fact – but it’s contained and held taut, restrained so that lines others would oversing manage to be for the Booths buoyantly subtle. The less impressionistic way of saying this might be that they encored “His Grace” acapella and got a bigger rise out of the place than most groups do with turnarounds twice as loud and half again as fast. I think that’s because such an understated approach gives the music a chance to breathe, to resonate with audiences accustomed to being shouted at and browbeaten into submission by evermore overpowering encores.

The insight the Booths seem to have made – and not just in their opening but throughout their set in general – is not new. The Martins were the most recent trio to popularize it and the Gaither Vocal Band deploys it as needed: namely, emphasizing musical textures and harmonic colorations over volume and dramatic expansiveness. But whereas the Martins had little else to fall back on other than their ability to wring seven different shades of supplication out of a harmonic suspension, the Booths have figured out how to make their sets cohere around this acoustical sound (and here’s the really brilliant part) even and especially when their music is at its trackiest. “Look for Me,” “Tears are a Language God Understands,” “Won’t that Be a Hallelujah Meeting,” and “Castles in the Sand” – especially “Castles in the Sand” – besides featuring Jim Brady a lot, these songs from the middle passage of the Booths’ set were held together by vocal arrangements that foregrounded the kind of harmonic and dynamic intricacy we expect most commonly from acoustical music: vivid and sentient, warmblooded and – in a word – felt. And yet only one song in their set (besides the first encore) was truly acoustical.

To hear what I mean, listen to the final “all” of “He Saw it All.” It’s there even on the recorded version, a little harmonic inflection that makes it sound as though three voices are moving in four different directions (though I suppose that could just be the track). Or “Crucified with Christ,” with which the Booths closed last night. Though Brady sings the song persuasively, Michael Booth seals the whole deal with one note in the final tag, a little augmented flourish that somehow manages to erase the sense of performance and artifice of the show and for a brief moment create what feels like an unmediated experience of the paradox at the heart of the song: living through dying in the transformative action of regenerative grace. I don’t necessarily think everyone (or anyone else) there would have put it that way, but then they were all too busy jumping up and beating their hands together, so I suppose in one way or another we were all more or less saying something similar.

THE TALLEYS

The Booths are a tough act for anyone to follow, and the Talleys did what they could. Which is to say, the same basic set they’ve been doing for the last two years with a few modifications to account for their latest project: Lauren Talley & Her BackUp Singers Sing Some Songs. Seriously, Lauren Talley is a transfixing stage presence, and if she’d do in six or eight months whatever it took Kim Hopper the last decade to do to open up and widen her head tones and get them out of her sinuses (and here’s a good place to say that Kim Hopper’s voice on The Ride is resplendent), Lauren Talley could pretty much write her own ticket, I think. Songs like “That Name” from her solo project, “The Broken Ones” and “Orphans of God” (which were part of the sets final segment last night) really pack the kind of wallop that can launch a career.

But back on earth, the most effective single moment of the Talleys’ set was perhaps the simplest: Roger Talley’s pared down piano solo at the beginning of their forty minutes, which led into a super slick video montage identifying the group on the church’s jumbo-tron monitor overhead (FBC Orlando is more digitized and hot-wired than the space shuttle, I think). This digital introduction made Roger Talley’s labored introduction of each member a little redundant, but it shouldn’t go without saying that the Talleys do an excellent job of integrating live music (that is, Roger at the piano) into their sets and their tracks. We’ve been talking a lot lately about bands this and live music that, but realistically the kind of limited mixed modes the Talleys work in – using a few bars of piano at the beginning or piano-and-voices interlude – is a model that more groups could strive for to enliven otherwise digitally moribund music without breaking the bank.

Roger Talley talks too much, and that wouldn’t be a problem if Debra Talley didn’t talk too … and if Lauren Talley didn’t talk too much. But there’s just entirely too much talking, not least of all the big fat dead spot after the second song during which Roger and Debbie make predictable – though occasionally funny – jokes about twentysome years of marriage etc. This wouldn’t be so bad if much of the stuff they’re staging from their newest album didn’t have a kind of easy-listening feel to it. As it is, the smooth-jazz style of this music – see, for instance, the loungy “No One Ever Cared For Me” – had the cumulative effect of a sedative on the first half of their program.

The song selection for the last half of their set was strong, but it was effectively gutted by this unintentionally hilarious video segment projected overhead during “The Healing.” The clip looked like a recording of some small-time church-theater group dramatizing scenes from the song – the story of the woman touching the hem of Christ’s garment, a contemporary scene of a healing miracle in a hospital room.

Oh. My.

It was the kind of thing that makes you embarrassed for A)The people doing the “acting”; B)The Talleys for thinking it was a good idea; and C)Yourself. Honestly. The wardrobe department seemed to be mostly old bath robes and mangy facial-hair prosthetics. “Jesus” was wearing what looked to be some kind of white canvas hoody with a vented coverlet. Needless to say, all this was both distracting and trivializing. The crowd’s reaction was underwhelming at best, so I don’t think I was alone here. Ditch the video.

Once again, I was disappointed that this crowd, like the NQC audience, didn’t seem to get “Orphans of God,” which is just a gobsmackingly good song and works well thematically with “The Broken Ones” to create an emphasis on the ordinary realities of religious living. But “Testify” woke everybody back up for ….

GREATER VISION

It was weird that the minister of music had GV come on while the love offering was being collected. And even weirder that Gerald Wolfe didn’t ease the awkwardness with some kind of humor. Is this normal, bringing a group on while the plate is being passed?

But no matter. Greater Vision would make a textbook study of product branding. It doesn’t matter that Jason Waldrup struggles to place pretty much every note of substance that comes his way throughout the night (his voice is beginning to consistently have the sound of someone who’s just vocally exhausted all the time). It doesn’t matter than when they sing “He’d a still been God,” that last word comes out variously as “Gad,” “Gawd,” and “Goad” from each guy. It doesn’t matter that like clockwork Gerald Wolfe pulls out the old red song book about halfway through and announces that they’re going to sing some old shape notes … because hardly any groups sing this style of music anymore … just the way nobody sang this style of music anymore when George and Glen and the Cats do-re-meed their way through “Oh Happy Day” 25 years ago (not coincidentally, Wolfe was playing keyboards for them then).

Well actually, on this last point (the matter of Wolfe’s personable stage manner and the way he manages to emanate a certain star quality and folksy charm) it DOES matter. Because this is important. These days Greater Vision musically seems primarily to be a pretext for Gerald Wolfe’s masterful emcee work. It’s not exactly inimitable, because as that redbook anecdote suggests, Wolfe has carefully learned and applied the lessons he received at the Younce School of Showmanship back in the day. But with the exception of a Vep Ellis hymn off GV’s hymns album (which served as a vivid reminder of what GV’s music could be like if it were more often invigorated by work from outside the Rodney Griffin Songbook), GV’s set musically never rose above competent. And yet they were the draw. No question about that.

I have some theories about why Wolfe is so captivating as an emcee, and soon I hope to inflict them upon you. But for now, it’s enough to say that people started getting up and leaving when Rodney Griffin took over to do the spiritual heavy lifting with “Faces.” I think that’s because the real high point of GV’s set was actually a hi-freakin-larious story-joke (in high George and Glen style) about Gerald and Rodney, a banana, a train ride in eastern Europe. To watch and listen to (and to watch everyone else watch and listen to) Gerald Wolfe tell a story like this is to witness a type of greatness in the vernacular arts that comes around a handful of times in a single genre every generation. It would not, I imagine, ever get old, just the way George Younce made every one of those old jokes he told about Glen Payne feel like the first time they’d ever been launched. And this is a good thing for Greater Vision, because “My Name Is Lazarus” and the material it exemplifies just doesn’t seem to be cutting it any more, at least not with the folks in Orlando.

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Comments

  1. RF wrote:

    Fantastic review. The Booth Brothers are a joy and a study in harmonic singing. And I had noticed that trait in Lauren Talley’s voice, but couldn’t explain it until you did. You have to admit, though, that her voice is instantly recognizable which is a good thing for the young Miss Talley.

    I used to be a big fan of Greater Vision and I still buy their stuff, but it all seems so programmed. Gerald Wolfe is simply the best MC in the whole genre and he has a voice most of us would kill for. The brilliance of an album like “Quartets” has been followed by a lot of mediocre stuff mostly because of the songs of Rodney Griffin, the people’s choice in songwriters. What GV needs is new fresh songs not from the pen of Rodney. And like the “Faces Tour” of a couple of years ago, only when GV gets preachy do my eyes glaze over and long for more songs like “He is Mine” from the old days. They are a wonderful group that needs a direction. And I agree, Jason needs a rest. He’s sounded less than good for the better part of two years.

    Of course, I’d have killed to have been there, but Florida is a long way, and a heck of lot warmer than where I am.

  2. Daniel J. Mount wrote:

    This was a fascinating read. Thanks for going back to the frontlines, Avery. :)

  3. chuck stevens wrote:

    Orphans of God is the best song out right now. Joel Lyndsey is one of gospel music all time great song writers. I miss two chords singing, but these types of songs make you think. I love Gerald as an emcee, but their set grew old some time back, As have most groups, it seems easier to go out each weekend and do the same program. We need some fresh progams out there. Booth Brothers are a class act.

  4. CVH wrote:

    Good review. I’ve heard Lauren a couple of times in the last two years and she’s certainly got one of the most unique voices in the business. Opening up her head tones is one thing; another would be (and partly a by-product of the first) to add a bit of warmth to her phrasing. She’s got the pipes and the power; what I’d like to hear (and it’s partly the material they do) is more subtlety and nuance in her phrasing and delicacy in her expression. She’s good but she can be better. I’m not sure if she’s worked with producers other than Roger but I’d love to hear her in the hands of an Ed Cash or Brown Bannister.

  5. jb wrote:

    Isn’t it funny how things hit people differently. I have never been a fan of the song Orphans of God. That does not mean it is not a good song. It does have a good message, I just don’t care for it. I’m sure the Booth Bros. do the same program over and over also, they just have a lot of energy. I have always loved Greater Vision and I think Rodney deserves songwriter of the year. His songs are powerful and really speak to my heart just like a lot of others. It would really be a boring world if we all liked the same things. Right now I am listening to the Perrys new cd. The Potter Knows The Clay is awesome. If you haven’t listened to it, get it. Such a simple song with a huge message. God Bless

  6. Sheldon wrote:

    Posts like this are the reason I keep coming back to this blog. I really liked some of Rodney’s songs from a few years ago. “Without a Valley” and “Pile of Crowns” come to mind. Lately his stuff has seemed a bit stale to me. Kind of like Les Beasley’s line about Daryl Williams that “Daryl has been re-writing “He’s Still in the Fire” for 5 years now.” Great report from the concert!

  7. Rhonda Berry wrote:

    #5
    I have seent the Booth Brothers many times over the last several years. We make a point of seeing them every chance we get, and can clearly say they DO NOT do the same program every time.
    Doug hit the nail on the head about the Booth’s special qualities musically and in everything else. I can say that it comes from the heart. While I enjoy and have been blessed by many groups, including the other two mentioned here, the Booth Brothers have that certain something that can only be defined as “it”. I can rave on and on about the sincerity they have because I have seen and heard it first hand. They really are as unique and special as Doug says they are.

  8. Bill Lancaster wrote:

    I was at the concert with my family. I have seen all three groups before, and didn’t really care for the Booth Brothers. I just don’t get all the hoopla about them. The group of the year award was a surprise! The Talleys were great as was Greater Vision.

    I mentioned to one of the group members that Doug H. from averyfineline was at the concert. Their reply was,” I guess I’ll find out everything I did wrong later on his blog.”

    Your posts really make me think. It just seems that you don’t enjoy the concerts you talk about.

  9. Dean Adkins wrote:

    Re #8: “It just seems that you don’t enjoy the concerts you talk about.”

    I certainly didn’t get that impression from the review. Obviously the majority of voters for Group of the Year didn’t agree with your assessment.

  10. Doug Sword wrote:

    I enjoyed the post. One of the things I most appreciate is the honesty of your reviews. You and David Bruce Murray have brought a sense of integrity to critique that has been missing for years.

  11. doug wrote:

    FYI,
    Daryl has been re-writing “He’s Still in the Fire” for 5 years now

    This song was written by Tim Hill

  12. Amanda wrote:

    I also didn’t get the impression that Doug didn’t enjoy the concert. He had many nice things to say about the groups. But you can count on Doug to let you know where improvements stand to be made. I love that about this blog. And I’m sure that there are many SG groups that cringe when they are mentioned here, but his CONSTRUCTIVE criticism is usually right-on! Great post!

  13. Sheldon wrote:

    “FYI,
    Daryl has been re-writing “He’s Still in the Fire” for 5 years now

    This song was written by Tim Hill”

    oops - I shouldn’t write from memory without checking the facts. re# 8 - I thought Avery enjoyed the concert. There were good things there about each group, obviously his favorite was the Booth Brothers. I for one have never really enjoyed the Talley Trio in concert, obviously many others, (including my wife) disagree with my assessment. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

  14. Leebob wrote:

    Group of the Year and a concert in the Dallas area that actually came close to 1000 people. Having seen a multitude of concerts NOT well attended, the Booth Brothers are finally getting some name recognition around here.

    One other note, I could tell by all the upside down frowns as fans left that concert that the crowd didn’t “get” the Booth Brothers either. Keep up the good work guys!!!!!

  15. Practical Fellow wrote:

    For what it’s worth - I like Daryl Williams, personally and professionally.

    I also really like the tune Orphans of God. I think it’s a little like fine wine (or grape juice, if you prefer). You’ve got to savor it a bit to really appreciate it. I heard it on the last Avalon record for almost a year before the lyric finally picked me up and body slammed me into a box of Kleenex. It doesn’t surprise me that an audience might not get it the first time around. By the way, Joel didn’t write this one alone so give Twila Labar, his co-writer, some props too.

  16. Juno wrote:

    I think the artist was right that said he/she would “find out everything they did wrong” on the blog. I think honesty is refreshing, but I get the impression that Doug can’t or won’t enjoy anyone or anything that isn’t 150% perfect. And I do mean perfect. I think someone forgot that everyone is actually human. Yea, human. Every heard the word before?

    Overall, nice review, but every time I read his concert reviews I cringe because I know he’s gonna capitalize on the “nitty grittys” of the concert rather than just enjoying. I’d hate to sing to a crowd in which I knew Doug was present. I could sing my best and really feel the Spirit and still Doug would leave saying everything he thought I did wrong. I’d hate to see him review a local group’s concert. He’d pick them apart so hard that when he was done there’d be nothing but feathers.

  17. Bob wrote:

    I don’t understand, All three groups at a church for a L O. When I called to have just 1 group come to Ohio they want to charge $4 to $5K. How do you get all three to come for a LO.

    I missing something ???

    I can get 350 people to come, out but after I pay for printing, Building Exp., postage, tickets, Food, Gas to travel to drop off fliers, give-a-ways, Help and the Cost for the Group, I’m in the hole.

    How many people were at the concert in FL

  18. Bob wrote:

    800 I seen that

  19. BBB wrote:

    You know what they give at a love offering. Dollar hear Dollar thier

  20. Elisabeth wrote:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the concert review. I don’t get to go to a lot of them, so these kind of things let me know what goes on “live.” I love the Booth Bros, though I have never seen them in person.

    One quick note about “Orphans of God”: the first time I heard that song, it was sung w/ a soundtrack by some orphaned/abandoned girls from India (I believe) in a college chapel. Not a dry eye in the place by halfway through it. A professor went to them afterwards and emptied his wallet because he was so touched (it was not an insignificant amount, either). The song is different from most SG, granted, but really listening to it will convince you of the never-ending or waning love of God. Thanks, Joel & Twila, for one of my favorite songs!

  21. Dale Steenhoven wrote:

    Forgive my ignorance, but what is syncopated clapping?

  22. quartet-man wrote:

    Syncopated clapping is not on the beat and not even. In other words, it isn’t on one and 3 or two and four, but say something like on one, the second half of four and then one. At least that is my perception of what he meant. It is likely worse than my scenario.

  23. charlie_thompson wrote:

    I READ ABOUT GERALD WOLFS SINUS OPERATION ETC. GREAT FOR HIM .WENT TO A CONCERT OF LEGACY FIVE AND GREATER VISION RECENTLY END OF JUNE, I think .in dayton,ohio. swigert church.i have for years been a fan of both groups.the singing ,and concert for me was poor.the last half it seemed lasted 2 hrs.15 minutes more or less .Forced the long video,and speel of compassion ,not to mention talking seemed,to last 2/3s or more of last half .very disappointed .my wife will not go back to jubilee ..I am involved financially etc in roughly 4 out of country mission fields ,and 4 at least in this country .so,forget self righteous lable .to much talking ,time him.people ,and especially Christians wont say much about such things .they just wont come,or not as often .jubilee is next year same place.if I go it will probably be by myself.it may have been with three even 4 people ,and I also help promote with flyers etc .
    This time its iffy ,I dont want people being disappointed as I was .and others feel the same .Gerald needs to shorten his talk time,cut compassion to 10 minutes ,and cut down time on talking.and cut compassion speel time at national quartet to 10 minutes a night .please ,thanks Charlie let all things be done decently and in order .forcing short info mercials on people ,that will fly with many ,long ones dont fly .came to hear singing .praying Gerald heals well from Sinus op.andbe considerate ,and talk less .it our nickle not his blessings

  24. charlie_thompson wrote:

    Booth Brothers our great,and great individuals as well.were all three my sons,I would be very proud of them . I AGREE LAUREN TALLY IS GRRRREEAT,AND Yes ,can get even great .great group. thanks charlie

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