Prime Cuts: He's Everything to Me, If We Ever Needed the Lord Before, The Prayer
An album full of songs sung a cappella is a cause for nervousness. It's like living in a glass prism with no curtains. The instruments that careen a song are what curtains are to a house, they have a way of covering up what we don't want others to notice. Often the virtuoso playing of guitars or the clashing sounds of the latest programmed drums can make one forget a song's lacklustre hook or its poorly constructed lyrics. Precisely because instrumentations have a way of building up anticipation, it can magically resurrect a turgid song into something pretty engaging. However, with absolutely no instruments to back the Martins' latest disc "A cappella" they do not have such luxuries. Thus, the onus is on the trio to continue to incite and excite through their layered harmonies and their vocal liberties. And to this end, the trio certainly pass muster.
"A cappella" is the Martin's first a cappella record in 18 years. Having secured a place in the hearts of the viewers of the Gaither Homecoming Video Series, it only makes sense that this album is produced by Michael English. From their early days of perfecting their harmonies in their Arkansas home town to their red-carpeted performances at the White House, Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, they have raised the bench mark for a cappella singing. "A Cappella" find the siblings Joyce, Jonathan and Judy revisiting some the canon of the church (including some treasured hymns and Southern Gospel favorites) and a couple of inspiration standards.
Without the aid of any instruments, the Martins still can add depth and dimensions to Ralph Carmichael's "He's Everything to Me." In a hymn that celebrates the breadth and height of Christ's reign, listening to how the siblings trade their voices with various shades of loudness as if to connote a spatial dimension is itself a work of art. Ingenuity again is at the fore when it comes to the Martin's take of "When I Go Away." An old spiritual that is often used in funeral processions, the Martins eradicate the song's morbidity with some finger snapping doo-wop as they wisely draw our attention to Jesus as the Resurrection of life. We are then transported back to the church hall with a Celtic styled rendering of "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence."
To hear the siblings melding their voices to their fullest glory, look no farther than "If We Ever Needed the Lord Before." Never ones to be accused of being stringent in their choice of songs, the Martins have taken the liberty a couple of less "churchy" songs. This includes a gripping rendition of Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli's "The Prayer." And they appropriately bring the album to a close with their take of the 1945 Carousel Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune "You'll Never Walk Alone." Though it's a perennial challenge for a cappella albums to hold our attention, yet through their creative use of their voices, the Martins can keep us spell-bound right though these 10 songs.