When I first heard about Still, I was interviewing the Booth Brothers for the August cover story of the Singing News. This was back in the summer of 2014 and after completing successful phone calls, texts and emails to Michael, Ronnie and Jim (who was still with the trio at the time), I could not wait to hear this new album. Their excitement and pure passion over the new material was infectious!
A couple months after that, the 2014 August issue of the Singing News was printed and the Booth Brothers appeared on the cover for the seventh time. (Previously appearing January 2000, October 2001, March 2008, November 2010, March 2011 as Jubilee, and December 2012 as Jubilee Christmas.) Since then, the group has experienced the departure of Jim Brady and addition of Paul Lancaster, making Still Paul’s official debut with the BB’s. Still was released late in 2014 and features a strong set of lyrics, a variety of musical styles and promising solo’s featuring the newest member, Paul Lancaster.
A strong lyric has always been, and still is, one of the Booth Brother’s trademarks. When they reach into the past and re-cut a tune, it is always saturated with the truths of God’s Word. New songs fresh from the pens of our genre’s best writers also go through the same scrutiny in the selection process before the BB’s enter the recording studio. With that said, I believe that Still has 10 solid songs represented on this project. To name a few, Dirt On My Hands prods the conscience to help others even when it’s hard, Wildflower touches on the difficult subject of a young girl growing up without a father, and Still gives a gentle reassurance to those who are walking through the trials of life. Wildflower is one of the most distinctive songs to enter the world of Southern Gospel Music. This ballad, as you will learn later, was one that the Booth Brothers asked Rebecca Peck to write for them, based on a true story, with a specific theme. Its silent plea to fathers and tender pledge to the young who grew up without them will either have you in tears or satisfied inside by the knowledge of the “Tender of the wildflowers…”
It has been said of past releases that the Booth Brother’s music is all over the map. Even when speaking to Michael, he teased that one day they will name a CD called “The Schizophrenic Sounds of the Booth Brothers” based on the variety of styles the BB’s record. This project follows in that vein and includes Quartet Music, R&B, Country, Big Band, Classical and Traditional Gospel. On the other hand, it would be difficult to say that anything Lari Goss, producer of Still, orchestrated has been schizophrenic! Thus, there is a thread in the music that pulls each track together and takes styles that should have nothing in common, harmonious. One cannot say that the music doesn’t flow. From Faith Keeps Walking to Jesus Saves, there is a subtle tone that sets a continuous mood within. What exactly is that thread? I believe it is the arranger’s love of the music and heart that brings it all together. Any technical aspect that can be analyzed and studied to unlock that treasure is solely the coordinator’s secret.
Theme: Reassurance, encouragement.
“We have never spent more time on executing the music and making sure it is the highest quality possible. We really spent some extra time on this one.” – Michael Booth
“It [the CD] has a neat variety that all pulls into one sound of the Booth Brothers…and that is harmony.” – Jim Brady
1 Faith Keeps Walking
Feature: Paul Lancaster
Message: The chorus launches us into metaphors of being on the water and the consequences of that water being rough. Worry eyes the waves with a racing heartbeat while regret longs for the receding shore line. If fear’s a factor, its gaze will be locked on the dark clouds and strikes of lightning, but faith isn’t shaken by those things. In confidence, faith proceeds. The lyric of the first stanza sings to that spirit of faith and encourages it to keep “doing the impossible.” Even when faith feels foreign and the world seem to be crashing down on you. After another chorus the tune goes right into the bridge, which gives a few lines of advice on how you can keep your faith walking: “Keep your eyes fixed on the Son when you’re standing in the storm…”
Other Comments: This first track takes off right into the chorus with snapping fingers and some island sounding drums. The “beach-y” feel is continued throughout the tune with the plucking of guitar strings on the appropriate beats and a little bass guitar.
2 Happy Rhythm
Feature: All Vocals
Message: Setting aside the peppy tune and gimmick-like tendency that is usually associated with this song, one can find a rather serious message about happiness within the lyrics. The verse, written in first person, tells you about a feeling that bubbles in this one’s soul. It’s free, it’s real and it’s long lasting. What could be better? The chorus explains what this phenomenon is…it takes root deep in your soul and when you feel it – it never stops. It’s a happy rhythm that comes from the joy of knowing Christ.
Other Comments: This song has always been done with a quartet and I think it’s safe to say that the BB’s are the first to cut the song as a trio. When you hear the brass around the Big Band arrangement, you can tell it’s a Lari Goss arrangement. This is the most innovated arrangement I’ve heard of this quartet song and I believe its brilliance can be appreciated by all music lovers. What Goss did with this song is amazing!
Feature: Michael Booth and Ronnie Booth
Message: When the night is full of distress and the dawn casts an unpredictable glow on your day, when it’s cold instead of bright, desperate instead of certain – you can pick up truth (in the form of God’s Word) and rest therein. The chorus makes a list of things that you can count on, things that will never change: God reigning from His throne, the dependability of the Bible, the life changing way of the Gospel, the certainty that your prayers are heard and that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. The second verse speaks of the disenchantments life will throw your way and how you can overcome them with “eyes of faith.” It only takes a gaze fixed on the eternal to see hope in every situation. For, as the bridge says, “Still, He takes care of His children…and calls all men to trust Him.”
Other Comments: Soothing is the best word that describes this song. The track pushes the lyrics to the forefront and keeps a steady rhythm with fingerstyle guitar, and in the second verse, a bit of piano and steel guitar. Though Michael takes the spotlight in the first verse and Ronnie is featured on the second, the chorus is led by Paul, which gives the soft ballad an interesting feel in that it highlights all three voices.
“It is just one of those gentle reminders that no matter what we face we can trust the truth that God is still on the throne. It was written to myself and my family to help us remember that when times are uncertain we can still trust that God is in control; and that’s something we can rest in.” – Jim Brady, songwriter
4 Dirt On My Hands
Feature: Ronnie Booth
Message: Doing what’s right even when it’s hard – that’s the theme of this Country tune. Written in first person, the opening verse speaks of that friend who’s in a tough situation. No one would blame them if they didn’t want to be involved in “the mess,” but God would. A courageous Believer knows that the love of Christ would reach out and help…even if it meant getting some “dirt on their hands.” The refrain is this one’s response – they’re not playing it safe, walking away or looking the other way while there’s a brother/sister in need. Instead, he’s going to do all he can for that friend, even if there’s some dirt involved. The second verse talks of the folks who say, “Leave it alone, it’s none of your business.” Yet, the Word is clear that, “To know what’s good and leave it undone – is just as much a sin as my very worst one.” Help the one in trouble; teach him to fight the good fight, even if the work isn’t easy.
Other Comments: In an interview with Jim Brady, who wrote the tune with his friend Woody Wright, he told me that the inspiration for this song came from one of the Booth Brother’s visits to Dr. Charles Stanely’s church, First Baptist of Atlanta. That particular visit Dr. Stanley was not there and so his assistant, Anthony George, preached instead. In his sermon, Anthony George said, “Sometimes when we help people we have to get a little dirt on our hands. Sometimes it’s an effort and sometimes it’s not always the easy route.” The next day Jim was talking to his buddy, Woody Wright, about this idea he had for a song called Dirt On My Hands, and even sang him the chorus. Woody said, “Let me write it with you.” Jim replied, “Let’s finish it.” In a few minutes the whole song was completed over the phone. Jim says that this song is different than anything he’s ever written. It has a Country sound, a good beat and smooth vocals by Ronnie Booth.
“I think it will communicate a positive message that people need to hear today.” – Jim Brady, songwriter
5 I Am The Word
Feature: Ronnie Booth
Message: The words of the first verse are taken straight from the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word – and the Word was with God – the Word was God – and the Word became flesh.” This Word was crucified and rose again to die no more. The chorus switches to first person (the first verse is written in third person) and is Jesus saying, “I am the Word. I will not pass away. I’m alive.” The second verse is also written in the first person and goes on to list the things that the Lord is: perfect, pure, truth, righteous, holy. We are to hide these things in our heart and know that He is our strength, power and our word…
Other Comments: The intro on this track is very dramatic. When I first heard it, I thought it sounded like the kind of music you’d expect to hear on a movie trailer – something exciting that gets your heart pumping! Michael explained that I Am The Word was originally a Couriers song that’s been on their bucket list to record for years. Personally, I’m glad that they did! While there are other songs on this CD that bring a Classical feel to the project, this power ballad brings that Classical style in with a minor key that offers a very distinct sound. Very moving!
6 Touch Of The Masters Hand
Feature: Paul Lancaster
Message: An old beat up violin sat in a box at the auction. It wasn’t much, said the auctioneer, but it’s all they had left to sell. A few dollars? C’mon, just one dollar more! As the sun set, an old man walked forward in the stuffy room and tightened the strings – a sweet melody filled the air. When he stopped, the auctioneer resumed the bidding and the price went from mere dollars to thousands. The crowd was confused, what made such a difference? The auctioneer answered, “The touch of the master’s hand.” Men are like the violin, the lyrics say. On the outside, we don’t look like much, until the Master comes and increases our value with His touch…
Other Comments: As you might imagine, there is a decent amount of violin in this ballad. J The beautiful part about that though, is it’s subtle, in the background, and not distracting. I like that, because the lyrics are strong and do not need any assistance getting the message across. The other instrument that you’re going to hear a lot on this track is the acoustic guitar.
7 Whenever I Speak His Name
Feature: Ronnie Booth
Message: Ever been in a situation where heartache and hurtful words predominate your day? Does the pressure try and steal your faith so you can’t walk the path and meet your goals? Well, it’s at times like these, the writer of the verse says, that they bring to mind Who they belong to…Who supplies His children with strength and by Whose name all the tension of the day is released. The chorus reminds us that when we call on His name those burdens disappear. The second verse quotes inspirational verses like, Romans 8:31 and Psalm 27:1 before asking, “Why should I be troubled and have anxiety? And let life’s little problems bother me?” After all, when He speaks, the mountain has no choice but to move!
Other Comments: This tune originally hails from the Imperials, but with the Booth Brothers behind the microphones the arrangement leans toward an R&B style. This arrangement is soft on the ears. You’ll hear a lot of strings, piano and a light dose of lead guitar in the mix. You’ll enjoy Ronnie’s smooth lead on this one!
8 Down By The River
Feature: Ronnie Booth
Message: The first verse of this song describes a changed life – one that went from being dragged and drowned down in the water to walking on land again with joy unspeakable. This is the kind of radical change that poses the question, “Where did you find this kind of grace?” The chorus answers, “Down by the river!” Though the lyrics in the refrain don’t follow a particular story line, the basic thought behind them informs the listener that “getting on your knees, praying and talking it out with the Lord,” is the result they see in the life given as example. The second verse goes on to say that this “trip to the river” is not just for a certain class of people. Rather, the hypocrite, sinner, rich and poor all will receive the same transformation at the river…all they have to do is make the trip!
Other Comments: The style of this song can be difficult to describe – I would say it is a cross between Hard Country and Black Gospel. It has a driving beat that will make you want to tap your toes and maybe even dance a little. The guitars (both acoustic and lead) take the spotlight on the track. When you come to the chorus, Ronnie sings the lead-lines while the others provide an echo. I guess it’s the chorus that reminds me of Black Gospel and the verses seem more like Country.
Feature: Michael Booth
Message: A little girl looks around and watches the others take center stage in their adoring father’s eyes. Sheltered. Nurtured. Loved. Deep inside, she aches to feel those loving arms around her…but he walked away at her birth. Going on, the first stanza explains how that absence of love kept her from fully trusting the Heavenly Father, though He was doing all the things her natural dad deprived her of. The refrain tells of the One who tends the flowers who appear to be wild and uncared for. He’s the one cultivating them and raising them up to be beautiful, and He’s yearning for them to trust Him. The second verse continues the story of the young girl who learns that this Father won’t walk away from her. Yet, even though others feel how she once did, He still showers them with His goodness, love and care.
Other Comments: The intro begins with strings playing so soft you barely hear them and a tender brasswind follows accompanied by more strings that bring a deeper tone to the piece. The mood that the track sets for this ballad is one most masterfully crafted. The music alone can convey the message to the heart, even if the lyrics were never heard. The feather-light fingers on the piano keys, the occasional brass and the soft strings creating an atmosphere that must speak of love, care and trust. When I spoke to Michael about this song, he explained that it is the real-life journey his wife, Vikki, embarked on after growing up without a father. “Vikki’s Song” is a masterpiece…
“I went to Rebecca Peck [as a writer] because I felt it needed a feminine touch to the song; she did an amazing job.” – Michael Booth
10 Jesus Saves
Feature: All Vocals
Message: The lyrics of this ballad seem to have been written with the Christmas story in mind, seeing that the first verse is centered on the birth of Christ. The term “Jesus saves” is seen as the heartbeat of heaven, mercy’s breath and what the angles sang of the night of Christ’ birth. The humble adore Him and the wise bowed down. The refrain reminds us that Jesus is the freedom that breaks every chain, the light that causes darkness to quake and the healer that makes “all things new.” He is the Savior. In the next stanza, the story of Christ moves to the cross where, “He will die our burdens bearing…” and to the empty tomb that both herald the same tune – Jesus saves! Finally, a line from the old hymn is belted out before the last chorus, “Oh, to grace how great a debtor! Jesus saves!”
Other Comments: After the orchestra makes a grand entrance, the intro begins with the choir (who is the Collingsworth Family) softly singing “Freedom’s calling, chains are falling…” and slowly builds into the first verse of the song. The orchestration with the choir makes this one of the big ballads on the project and a majestic way to end the CD. The arrangement is very different from the Mike LeFevre Quartet’s version, but I like that about it. There’s nothing that disappoints me more than when a group records another song and uses the original track. I have a great respect for a group and/or arranger who has a vision and can craft the song to the group’s style, instead of using another’s track.
Conclusion: This is an excellent project. I personally enjoy the different styles the BB’s brought to the recording – Lari Goss’ arrangements give them seamless transitions from track to track. The Collingsworth Family appearing on Jesus Saves (background vocals) is definitely one that will be remembered for a long time. At the beginning of this review I quoted Michael saying that the BB’s spent extra time on this CD to make it perfect – when I listen to the project, I hear that extra effort in every detail. This recording is flawless. Fans may be wondering how the member change will manifest itself within the group. This project proves that, musically, all remains unchanged…after all, it’s still the Booth Brothers.