Clip of the day
Longtime reader NG brought this clip to my attention. It’s Josh Garner, Jonathan Sawrie, Scoot Shelnut, and Gerald Williams doing “Standing by the River” at the 2007 GOGR:
The vocals are not without flaws and the recording quality is close to horrendous. And, too, regular readers will know that I would have preferred that Andrew Ishee had been cropped out of the clip: alas though he kicks the tune off well enough, it doesn’t take long for him to remind me why I’ve never missed his presence since he left the road.
All this notwithstanding, I’m pretty smitten with the clip - not just despite but even because of its flaws. Maybe it’s just that I’m sick of hearing flawlessly facile karaoke concerts with vocal stacks so high that oxygen masks drop down from the ceiling. But this clip contains the kind of music - of surpassing immediacy and classically curatorial expertise - in which the flaws are deeply humanizing. They remind us that the sound is not just live, but alive, living, worth sticking with because you don’t know what might happen … for worse in places, yes .. but also and more often for better. Sure, Garner blows his lines in a few places, but that trio of the three upper voices leaves me gobsmacked all the same.
I have no special brief for the classic quartet sound, as many of you know, and even to me Garner’s voice stands out as the genuine article in a field full of imitation tenors who try to pretend that screeching nasality is the same thing as the rounded sculpted head-tones that, at his best, Garner uses here. Similarly, Sawrie and Shelnut and Williams turn in what I assume are more or less impromptu and largely unrehearsed performances of great mastery. The fact that they mostly just stand there and sing isn’t by itself dispositive proof of anything, but it suggests a lot of what I’m trying to get at here. It’s all a reminder of what it means to say an ensemble sound is greater than the sum of the parts.
The shorter version: any four voices in gospel music that can convey that wonderful sound of light even under such crappy reproduction quality are worth taking the time to listen to. More than once even.
Update: Daniel Mount points out that Garner sang lead for eight years with the Florida Boys and is about to do so again with the Blackwoods. “He isn’t even really a tenor,” Mount says. But this is precisely my point. Who says he ain’t a tenor? Because he can’t engage in the novelty-act squealing that passes for tenor singing these days? Somewhere along the line, any obligation for tenors to produce pleasant sounding tones got leeched out of the job description in sg and “tenor” became synonymous with “sings really really high notes no matter what.” For ages groups have arranged around higher and lower leads but very few groups make a point of rearranging their sound downward to accommodate the tenor who may not have a dog-whistle range on the high end. Instead they push the tenor up, up, up and ultimately out of the group if/when the punishing ranges in which most “classic” tenors are required to sing finally ruins their voices. But what Garner reminds us here that it doesn’t have to be that way. Imagine what would happen if this song had actually been arranged for a second-tenor range like Garner’s.Email this Post