The First Gospel Hour has never mistaken the limits of their small town as the ends of the world. They have a vision of reaching of seeing ministry not as they are, but what they ought to be. The First Gospel Hour is not just the weekly hour of worship that takes place in the small town of Minden in Louisiana. They are committed to make their "Praise and Worship" done the "Southern Style" so infectious that people from all over the globe would join in to the singing of the King of kings. Often on the show they would bring in some of the biggest names in Southern Gospel music (such as the Talley Trio, Mark Trammell Quartet, Gordon Mote among others) to lead in worship. Finally, they have taken the leap of faith in the releasing of their ambitious collection of music entitled "Southern Offerings." Debuted to an over-capacity audience of over 1,400 people at the First Gospel Hour's "Night of Southern Offerings" late last year, this CD features the long list of some of the biggest names in Southern Gospel and country music. And they include the Grammy Awarded Cox Family, famed record producer, artist and Nashville's top session player Gordon Mote, the DuBoses, Rachel Chapman, the Chordsmith, Meredith Nelson, Brandon Ratcliff and the 80-voiced First Gospel Choir.
Most attention grabbing amongst star-studded artists lineup is the Cox Family. Noted for their work with Alison Krauss, the Cox Family's 1994 "I Know Who Holds Tomorrow" album even features the bluegrass songbird singing and producing for them. Here the Cox Family gets to sing lead on 4 out of the 11 songs. After all these years, Suzanne Cox still sounds so angelic on Jeremy Camp's "Give Me Jesus." The sympathetic acoustic sounding backings and Cox's heart in her throat vocals make "Give Me Jesus" a worthwhile song candidate to listen to during one's devotional time. Don Williams' signature tune "You're My Best Friend" isn't just covered karaoke styled. Rather, they have wisely weaved this country no.1 song with the hymn "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" to make Jesus the cynosure of the song's content. Save for Whitney Houston, few can tackle a Dolly Parton cover without mimicking her girlish mannerisms. But the Cox Family really makes Parton's "Heaven's Just a Prayer Away" their own. While "I Just Want to Thank You Lord" is a textbook example of how to use the voices of a choir (in this case the First Gospel Choir) effectively on a country-sounding waltz without pilfering it from its rustic charms.
Sounding like one of those extinct gorgeous Vince Gill ballads from the 90s is "Thank You Lord for Blessing Me." Featuring the smooth voices of the famed Gordon Mote and First Gospel Hour's Worship leader Todd Dubose, this steel-drenched ballad details the blessings of God (such as food and family) that we often take for granted. Speaking of family, Todd Dubose shows up again this time with his family as the DuBoses on the Jack Campbell and Jimmie Davis' "I Know a Man Who Can." While many Christian songs love keeping Jesus incognito, "I Know a Man Who Can" makes no qualms in speaking perspicuously about the Savior. And prepare for some spine chilling moments as Rachel Chapman leads us with an unwavering conviction on the testimonial "My God is Real." Chordsmith, a regional favorite, gives the Carter Family's "Jordan" a spirited bluegrass workout.
Of note also are the ways in which First Gospel Hour gives some of the familiar worship numbers their own Southern makeover. Most satisfying is their take of Chris Tomlin, Matt Maher and Audey Assad's "You Revive Me." Featuring the richly textured voice of Alicia Dubose and with the help of the DuBoses and the First Gospel Hour Choir, they assist us to ascend the steps of crescendo building worship on this God-besotted worship anthem. In a world of variegated tastes, it's quite unfair to domesticate worship to just the usual rock anthemic flair. So, if you want a recess from the tried and true and if your taste leans towards country/Southern Gospel, "Southern Offerings" is a genuine treat.