Whysper Dream Music
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How appropriate that Larry Stephenson celebrates his 25th year as a bandleader by releasing his fifth all-gospel album. Stephenson always seems to put an extra something into such releases, and this one is no different in that regard. The man definitely has a special feel for gospel music, and it shows throughout this 12-song album that mixes standards such as “How Great Thou Art” and “Great Speckled Bird,” with lesser-known covers such as “Born Again” from the Louvins, along with newer tunes from Rick Stanley/Donna Ulisse, Randall Hylton, and Bill Castle. There is one original. Behind him is most of the same group that helped make his last release, What Really Matters, a success. The one change is the substitution of guitarist Colby Laney in place of Kevin Richardson. Otherwise, it’s still Kenny Ingram on banjo and Danny Stewart on bass.
Interestingly, Stephenson backs the opener “Amazing Grace” not with that group, but with an a cappella quartet of Jimmy Fortune, David Parmley, and Dale Perry. Usually, such guest tracks come at the end of an album, but this one has been designated a feature track, and since it’s so well-done, who’s to quibble? After that, it’s the Larry Stephenson Band in a variety of settings from the straight bluegrass of Lester Flatt’s “Thank God I’m On My Way” and the traditional “Will You Meet Me Over Yonder” to the classic fingerpicked guitar (jauntily played by Ingram) of Hylton’s “If You Want To Live Forever” and to the thoughtful moment-of-enlightenment of Stanley and Ulisse’s “Come To Jesus Moment.” For shear joy, though, it’s hard to beat the above-mentioned standards (along with “Prettiest Flowers Will Be Blooming”). Standards, yes—but for a reason.
Through it all, Stephenson’s emotional tenor vocal cuts straight to the heart of the song and the message. As said above, the man definitely has a special feel for gospel music. (Whysper Dream Music, 1937 Upper Station Camp Creek Rd., Cottontown, TN 37048, www.whysperdream.com.)BW