REVIEW OF BALL BROTHERS’ “STRENGTH” ALBUM
After an acapella effort and a jazzy Christmas album, the Ball Brothers have bounced back with "Strength." "Strength" is the Ball Brother's first mainstream southern Gospel album since 2011's "Recharged." Though the starting off as four blood brothers, they have evolved now to consisting of only of two blood siblings with the other two being brothers-in-Christ. Currently, the quartet consists of Andrew Ball, Daniel Ball, Andy Tharp and Chad McCloskey. Together as a quartet they have been a tour-de-force in the Gospel music scene having won 2011's Singing News "Horizon Group of the Year" award, performing over 150 dates a year across the globe, and appearing in the famed Gaither Homecoming video series. Now they are back with their most anticipated eighth non-seasonal release "Strength." The strength of "Strength" is that it's not your traditional old-fashioned- gospel music. Rather, it's an unpredictably progressive set of songs; each of which possesses its own individuality and each is organically produced. Thus, this record redeems itself from being banausic blathering a "same-ness" across the songs. Rather you have a surfeit of everything from country-pop to adult contemporary balladry to new age jazz-funk to progressive Southern Gospel. Further, the Ball Brothers have never blended into the quartet mold so prevalent in the genre. They have never been too strict in sticking with their four part harmonies. Andy Tharp, for instance, sings baritone for most songs but on other occasions he does the leads too. And there are songs that are so progressive that you wouldn't even recognize them as a Southern Gospel quartet.
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Springing brightly out of the box is the Nashville country-pop charger "I Have a Hope." With an in-your-face engaging urgency over a tightly melodious tune "I Have a Hope" sets the tone for the album: it is bright, glorious and so welcoming. The hopeful euphoria continues with the harmony layered "Over the Horizon" where you could not appreciate the beauty of harmonies better than this. For trivia bluffs, "Over the Horizon" is not a Ball Brothers original but it first appeared as a pretty innocuous cut on 4Him's 1991 CD "Face the Action." But it was brought to greater popularity in southern gospel when Brian Free and Assurance did an acapella version of it that is simply sublime. "I Smile," on the other, finds the brothers moving into Jason Mraz's territory. Calling to mind Mraz's "I'm Yours," "I Smile" finds the Ball Brothers in a jazzy funk slippage that is addictively pleasing to the ear with a message that warms the heart.
Fans of the Ball Brothers know that some of their best loved songs over the past have been their ballads such as "I'll Do Anything," "Mercy Said No" and "It's All About the Cross." Gorgeous and easily the best cut from the album is the narrative-ballad "Not Anymore." Centered round the role of Jesus, this song is an unfolding narrative of how the major players of redemptive history (such as the Israelites and the disciples of Jesus and us) have to wait for the Messiah "not anymore." This song also is the perfect exemplar of how sound a Cross-centered message can be donned with a beautifully crafted melody. Anchoring the album into further Godly gravity is the introspective piano-led "All I Have to Be." This song is a much needed morning prayer reminding ourselves we are first and foremost God's before the challenges of the world sets in. Less affective but still passable is the Rascal Flatts-sounding slowie "What If" and the need for accountability ballad "Walk with Me."
"Strength," by no means, is sonically burly all the way through. There are a couple of flabby moments, namely the pop sounding misstep "You Love Me Anyway" which is whiney lyrically and features some dated sounding drums. Erring on the side of caution is the ordinary "To Live without Me;" a song that doesn't rise above their standard flair of harmony-driven pop. By no means is "Strength" perfect but it is still a pretty sturdy album overall. This collection of songs really set these youngsters apart from other quartets in the genre: they are innovative, energetic and when they croon a ballad you've got to just watch your heart.
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