Dissent of the day

In response my thoughts on Triumphant’s ensemble sound, a reader writes:

I wonder if Gene MacDonald had been with Triumphant QT, if the appraisal of his performance would have been the same as Eric’s? Is it really the singer, or the group you don’t like.

A fair question, I think, even if I take exception with the (inadvertent?) implication that criticism of form and style are just flimsy fig leafs for some nasty personal agenda. Giving the commenter the benefit of the doubt that this was not what he intended (assuming instead he was asking if the group’s general ambient style – their sound but also their look and stage presence and the whole vibe, so to speak – doesn’t just rub me the wrong way in a way that doesn’t have as much to do with Bennett as I think), I’ve given a good deal of thought to the question on and off for the past few days. And … well, I have a few thoughts.

In the first place, it’s only arguably true at best that Eric Bennett and Gene McDonald are vocally interchangeable, which is the assumption underlying the commenter’s dissent. I don’t think they are interchangeable, and whether you agree with that or not, it can’t be that difficult to see how someone who does hear it my way would go on from there and also not be able to divorce that voice from the ensemble.

Like I said in my first post, I don’t think there’s anything technically wrong with Bennett’s voice. It just always seems to be featured in a way that comes off as oversinging. But it’s not just Bennett. Indeed – and this is and was the main point of the earlier post– I hear a version of this in at least Sutton and the elder Inman’s voice, a conscious effort at a vocal amplitude that hits my ear as too much. DBM thinks I’m selling them short as vocally shallow, but it’s not a lack of depth so much as too much density.

Why is that? I dunno. Could be all me, but since I’m not the only one who thinks so, that seems that unlikely. As I also tried, perhaps imperfectly, to say in that earlier post, there are probably habits and stylistic tendencies that we pick up from people we spend as much time with as guys in a quartet spend with one another – a principle that holds true in a lot of creative collaborations. Nothing wrong with that, mind you. But if that’s true, then Bennett’s voice is a microcosm of the group’s style as a whole, at some level.

I guess it’s possible there’s seem deep-set animus coloring my judgment here. I mean, I probably wouldn’t be any more – or less – socially compatible with these guys than I am any other off the rack southern gospel quartet, but I don’t blog out of some unstaunchable grief that Eric Bennett isn’t my best friend, and I don’t assume that’s the reason they sing either, so there’s just really no basis for locating some Dr. Evil scheme afoot here. But for the sake of argument, let’s say I DID dislike them for personal reasons. An uninitiated observer might look at your average fan’s behavior and conclude the basis for liking a group is just as purely personal too. Like, dislike: Flip side of the same coin if we’re going to argue from personal motives alone.  

Now, I actually don’t think that’s true. At least I don’t think all the talk in southern gospel about the different vocal styles and arrangements people like and don’t like are just so much scrim for unsorted knot of personal animus and uncritical adoration. For one thing, southern gospel types have a very well established gift for blunt honesty. Why would they start redirecting away from truth on this one thing and not on every other? Stylistic tastes are the surface features of much more complex process of spiritual, religious, and emotional satisfaction we do (and often don’t) get from the music. Debating that stylistic stuff is a shorthand for the bigger stuff. Plus it’s just fun.

At least in my case, I have offered as clear an explanation as possible, in fairly depersonalized terms, for what I think accounts for what I think/feel about what I hear (allowing of course that there are elements of taste that there are no accounting for in all of us). And though very few of Triumphant’s fans have offered a similarly structured account of what they like about the group in the discussion below, I assume such an accounting is possible, nonetheless.

Now having done what I criticized Triumphant for doing - taking all the oxygen out of the room - I’m going to go get some air.

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  1. Drummingdrew wrote:

    I totally agree. I never cared much for Clayton’s voice even in the early days with the KH. Just too much intentional vibrato. It is hard to gage Bennett without the effects of Clayton (or vice versa) since my memory only goes back to them singing together with the KH. Now David Sutton hasn’t always had that seemingly uncontrollable vibrato. Go back and listen to some old Anchormen projects and you will see a more smooth vocal with much less vibrato (see “It Was Amazing” from the Backstage Pass project). Then compare that to his solo verses on “when the Trumpet Sounds”. Do they make a harness to hold those things still?

  2. Wade wrote:

    Another example of ppl rubbing off on each other as they perform is in a typical Stand Up Comedy Show consist of a Headliner, a Feature act or MIDDLE person and a Host or MC.

    I have been involved and observed 3 totally different ppl booked over a 4-5 day period together that may have NEVER met before and by the end of the run you can hear each performer in the other ppl’s act.

    The headliner will REALLY INFLUENCE the others… but if the MIDDLE person is strong then the headliner will often unconsciously pick up the pacing of the MIDDLE person.

    If the MC is usually LAID back and works with 2 other High Energy performers by the end of the run he will BE HIGH ENERGY!!

    If the MC is High Energy and the Middle act is laid back if the MC is good and has good sets then the middle person and sometimes even a HEADLINER will again match the pacing.

    If Ron White headlines the show by the end of the run the other 2 will be REAL laid back and heavily drinking on stage!! ;-)

  3. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Ron White walks out with the crowd cheering like mad and screams at them, “Y’all shut up so we can get on with this.”

    I’d love to see some popular Southern Gospel group try that just once to see the reaction of the gray hairs. :o)

  4. Wade wrote:

    DBM… I am glad you have seen Ron White!! Doing that is funny and I will think of The SGM Artist who would most likely do that. Who likes to hear themselves!!! Many think it I am sure!! :-)

  5. irishlad wrote:

    EB to my mind is an exceptional bass with great range;his speaking voice is,like george younce, in the normal range,my only criticism is, when he reaches for those uber low notes he sometimes has to call on vocal fry which gives an unattractive timbre to his voice.

  6. Aaron Swain wrote:

    #5: I’ve noticed the fry thing on his more recent work; when he was with the Kingdom Heirs, some of those low notes were almost Jeff Chapman-like in quality.

    Speaking of his time with the KH, check out EB singing the Michael English hit “In Christ Alone.” I believe it’s on the “Reflections” project. Absolutely incredible!

  7. Sensible wrote:

    #3 & #4 Jim Hamill probably could have pulled that off real smooth. And I agree, many groups are thinking it.

  8. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Hovie Lister came close. There’s an album where the crowd is applauding for an encore after a song, and he yells at them to be quiet. Finally, he says, “I just want to say…I don’t want to say anything” and he launches into the encore.

    I think it would be funniest, though, if Ruben Bean did it.

  9. Wade wrote:

    I am not Surprise Hovie did that… He did enjoy hearing himself… all ya had to do was ASK him!!

    I actually believe I did hear Hamill do something like that one time during an event where he had a VERY STRICT Time Limit and was wanting to get something it!!

    Jim was still the BEST of ALL time. I learned from him… An ROOM will speak to you if you will only listen!!

    There is a FINE line between Controlling a Crowd and getting them whipped up into a frenzy beyond control.

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