Prime Cuts: The Living Years, Love is the Golden Rule, Hello Happiness
Overall Grade: 4/5
When was the last time you heard a couple of Ray Charles' covers and the 80s synth-pop music of Mike and the Mechanics on a Southern Gospel release? Michael English is perhaps the uncanny exception. His music stands athwart the traditional (and sometimes cheesy) sounds of Southern Gospel music. This 55 year-old singer brings the guttural, the grit and the blues back to Southern Gospel. He interweaves the genre with threads of blues and pop, creating a whole new patented texture for himself. "Love is the Golden Rule" is English's sophomore album for Daywind Records. Unlike his previous effort, "Worship," this new set consists of mainly brand new songs with a few unexpected covers.
Initially, English was a member of his family's singing group, and later he became a member of the esteemed Gaither Vocal Band. During his solo career, he recorded nine studio albums with Curb Records. Moreover in the mid-90s, English even had crossover chart success when his solo single "Your Love Amazes Me" reached No. 10 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
Easily the most arresting track off the new record is English's cover of Mike and the Mechanics' "The Living Years." Originally released in 1988, "The Living Years" was a worldwide smash, topping the charts in the US, Canada, UK and Australia. What makes this song such a tour-de-force is the story it tells. Addressing a son's regret over unresolved conflict with his now-deceased father, this song ought to serve as a wake-up call for those of us holding grudges against our parents.
Though no song comes across as powerfully as "The Living Years," the title cut "Love is the Golden Rule" comes close. Situating Matthew 7:12 within the context of our current fragmented world of violence and racism, there's something prophetic about this song. "My Love," which serves as the album opener, is a sonic work of art. Intermingling the smooth layered harmonies with crisp pop beats, this song brings a contemporary sheen to Southern Gospel music. Also in the same contemporary accent is the catchy "Hello Happiness" and the challenging "Little is Much."
English also indulges in a couple of Ray Charles' covers. The first is "None of Us Are Free" which gets a Solomon Burke-esque bluesy read. The second is the delightful "One Drop of Water" which benefits from a Muscle Shoals mix quipped with the whole shebang of brassy horns, call-and-response vocals, and some deep Southern soul. Normally, English's power ballads are occasions for shout-outs, but this time "Finally Coming Home" and "Let Me Hold You" get too melodically diffused half-way through to envelope our grasp.
Though "Love is the Golden Rule" is by no means perfect, it still has many merits. With the interweaving of blues, pop, country and Gospel, this is a record that has all the touches of English's creativity on it.