Rating: 5 stars
Producers: Randy Shelnut, Randy Shelnut Jr., and Stewart Varnado
Song List: I’ll Be Ready To Go With Him; So Many Reasons; Miracles Will Happen On That Day; Until You Find the Lord; Not in a Million Years; Walk With Me; On the Other Side of Jordan; How Big is God; I’m Gonna Move to the Sky; Little is Much.
In the two years since the Dixie Echoes released their last release (Sounds of Sunday), they have had two member changes. Former Palmetto State Quartet member Wesley Smith has replaced Dallas Rogers at the tenor slot, and former Diplomats bass Pat Barker has replaced Tracy Crouch at bass. Since every Dixie Echoes project over the past several years has introduced at least one new member, the group has been fortunate to maintain the same core through that time–lead singer Randy Shelnut, baritone “Scoot” Shelnut (Randy Jr.), and pianist Stewart Varnado.
For the last five or six years, the Dixie Echoes have predominantly recorded and staged classic Southern Gospel songs. So Many Reasons continues this trend. However, it differs from the typical table project. Many groups record projects of new songs as their mainline releases and do table projects of classics on the side; these table projects typically feature ten of the 50 to 100 songs instantly recognizable to any Southern Gospel fan. The Dixie Echoes consistently make a concerted effort to find and bring back forgotten gems.
Granted, the project has its familiar songs, three or maybe four songs from that (hypothetical) list of 50 to 100 songs that every Southern Gospel fan knows. But each has a purpose in the album. “Walk With Me” showcases tenor Wesley Smith; “How Big is God” and “Not in a Million Years” introduce Pat Barker. Somewhat like his predecessor Tracy Crouch, Barker is not the lowest bass ever, but has a rich, warm tone and carries a pleasant lead. “Not in a Million Years” might not have been primarily thought of as a bass song before this rendition, but Barker’s vocals make it sound as though it was written for a bass voice.
“Little is Much,” the project’s other instantly recognizable song, features lead singer Randy Shelnut. Undoubtedly, enough fans who have heard Shelnut’s often electrifying live rendition of the song requested for a CD with the song that the group needed to record it eventually.
Probably the project’s best forgotten gem is the opening track, “I’ll Be Ready.” The song was written by David Reese, a member of the Harvesters and Rangers, and recorded by both groups. Other than a splendid rendition on a recent Couriers project–a project that regrettably stayed unknown to most Southern Gospel fans–the song has been largely forgotten for decades. The Dixie Echoes turn in a great rendition, managing to showcase all four members without any awkward transitions. (Pat Barker even sings some rhythm bass during Wesley Smith’s solo.)
Other project highlights include “On the Other Side of Jordan,” “I’m Gonna Move to the Sky,” and the two songs featuring Pat Barker, “How Big is God” and “Not in a Million Years.” This project will delight fans of classic Southern Gospel, and undoubtedly win a few new ones along the way.
A few words about the rating. Since this is only the fourth 5-star rating I’ve given this year, and only the second to a project released this year, it might raise a few eyebrows that I gave the rating to a project of (mostly) familiar classics. I did this for two reasons. First, I compare it against other projects of classic songs, and it’s one of the best in recent years. Second, part of the rating is due to the recording process. They recorded the core instruments on the soundtracks themselves, and recorded the vocals without stacks or auto-tuning. So Many Reasons gets four of its stars because it’s good; it gets its fifth star because it’s real.