Prime Cuts: He Will Carry You, Never Walk Alone, Calvary's Cry
Overall Score: 5/5
Brian Free doesn't believe in padding. Free touts that every song in each of his record serves a purpose. And each track has been carefully and prayerfully chosen to enhance the theme(s) of the project. This means he doesn't believe padding his albums with filler songs. Such a conviction is largely upheld over the course of Brian Free & Assurance's lengthy career. "Signature Ballads," released via Daywind Records, as the titular indicates is a retrospective collection. Without any newly recorded or unreleased song, the set garners 12 of Free's best ballads from his 1996's "4 God So Loved" right until last year's "Live Like You're Redeemed." This means that this collection actually represents a snippet of 20 years-worth of Brian Free & Assurance's soaring ballads.
Brian Free is undeniably the most recognizable southern gospel tenor of our generation. Since 1982, he has been at the forefront of southern gospel music since first joining Gold City Quartet, then moving on to form his own group. Southern Gospel music has always been Brian's first love, and fans have responded to his music by honoring him and the group at the Dove Awards for Southern Gospel Performance of the Year, "Say Amen," in 2014 as well as "Long As I Got King Jesus" in 2006. Brian Free and Assurance has also made a number of notable television appearances, including TBN, Gospel Music Channel, Prime Time Country (TNN), Hee Haw (CBS), The "Today Show" (NBC), 27 of the "Gaither Video" series.
While ballads have always been a mainstay in Southern Gospel music, it's Brian Free's perspectives on lofty issues that have set him apart from his peers. Though legions in the genre, for instance, have sung about the Cross of Jesus, Free's "Calvary's Cry" stands head and shoulders above the rest. The opening words are so poignant that it stops in the tracks: "It was the hill that was pierced by the cross..." The phrase itself is so rich, that a million sermons could emanate just from it. While singing about a man's role and responsibility in God's calling is nothing novel, Free's "I Want to be that Man" is so compelling that makes you want to say "Amen" over and over again.
Moreover, Free's ability to wrap in presence around his notes give weight and depth to them giving a form of assurance you don't find often. On "He Will Carry You" and "Never Walk Alone," Free sings about God's presence in such a way that you can't help but be comforted by his Spirit-enveloped nuances. Though songs like "There Will Come a Day" and "He Still Saves" suffer from the aplomb of bombastic strings and dated choir sounds, they still remind us how powerful Free is as a vocalist. If you like songs gorgeous executed and yet possess theological "meat" to sink your teeth in, Free's "Signature Ballads" is a gold-filled mine.