The Perrys’ upcoming April 8th StowTown release, Into His Presence, is one of the year’s most highly-anticipated releases. This was a day that many in the Southern Gospel community feared would never come. Over the last fifteen months, during Tracy Stuffle’s protracted, roller-coaster recovery from a January 2013 stroke, there were many points it seemed doubtful he would survive, let alone return to the stage. But he is back, albeit in a limited capacity as his recovery continues, and appears on this CD.
Into His Presence also features the Perrys debut of two new vocalists, lead singer David Ragan, already a young star in his own right, and rookie bass singer Jared Stuffle. Jared Stuffle is the son of alto Libbi Perry Stuffle and bass singer Tracy Stuffle. Last year, the group announced that he would be filling in on bass until his father was able to fully return. He sings a bass harmony part on most songs on the CD, and does an adequate job. His tone has a baritone warmth and clarity, even on bass notes (and make no mistake, that’s intended as a compliment.) Picture what former Florida Boys baritone Glen Allred would have sounded like filling in on bass (and make no mistake, that’s intended as a second compliment.)
When a group has to replace a superstar, as the Perrys did after Joseph Habedank’s departure, they faced a dilemma many groups face. Should they hire the replacement singer who sounds most like his predecessor, or the overall best singer available? The Perrys chose the latter course.
Into His Presence doesn’t have any anthems as gigantic as “Calvary Answers For Me” or “If You Knew Him,” no shouting songs in the vein of “Did I Mention,” and no hard-driving toe-tappers like “I Wish I Could’ve Been There.” When a group hires the overall best singer available, sometimes they keep picking songs that would have been perfect for their old lineup. The Perrys wisely eschewed that approach in favor of a more straight-ahead and subdued repertoire.
Perhaps the crown jewel of this approach is the opening track, “Into His Presence.” This Cathedrals cover is a peaceful, pretty arrangement anchored by David Ragan. Perhaps it’s understated—understated magnificence. It’s hard to imagine it fitting any previous Perrys lineup, but it is perfect for this one.
In a similar manner, Libbi Perry Stuffle’s strongest feature on the project is “Reminders.” It’s more subdued than many of the Kyla Rowland songs that the group has previously recorded; it doesn’t have the drive of “Until I Start Looking Ahead,” “Did I Mention,” or “I Rest My Case At The Cross.” But it’s a perfect fit both musically and lyrically for where the group is at this point in their career.
“Three Men On a Mountain” features Tracy Stuffle. Granted, his voice may be only around 30% of the way back, but a comeback to even this point was so improbable that few Southern Gospel fans will listen to this track with dry eyes.
Two other highlights are a 6/8 song called “Lord, I’m Thankful” and “Sooner Than Later,” a song featuring baritone Bryan Walker that would have sounded at home on a Steeles record in the late ’90s.
Don’t approach Into His Presence hoping for a lead singer trying to be the second-best Joseph Habedank in the world and a bass singer trying to be the second-best Tracy Stuffle in the world. This Perrys lineup is comfortable in its own skin.
Song list (songwriters in parentheses): Into His Presence (Mack Taunton); When He Comes Walking On The Water (Wayne Haun, Jeff Bumgardner); I Can Trust Him (Wayne Haun, Joel Lindsey); How Long (Johnny Minick); Reminders (Kyla Rowland, Melissa Dawn Kennedy); Lord, I’m Thankful (Joel Lindsey); Sooner Than Later (Rachel McCutcheon, Adina Bowman); Three Men On A Mountain (Wayne Haun, Joel Lindsey); I Owe Him Everything (Lyn Rowell); Just Stand Still (Rodney Birch); Privilege of Prayer (Rachel McCutcheon). Review copy provided.