|Here We Are Again | Posted March 05, 2012
Fans have waited a few years for Ernie Haase & Signature Sound (EHSS) to offer up a new studio recording of original material. And in the years that have elapsed since 2008's Dream On, the group has undergone much change. Lead singer Ryan Seaton and bass singer Tim Duncan have both exited the group, leaving Ernie Haase and Doug Anderson as the remaining founding members. Joining them for Here We Are Again are lead Devin McGlamery and bass Ian Owens. Devin is no stranger, having joined the group in late 2009, he participated on the last project, A Tribute to the Cathedral Quartet. However, this record is the first chance for many fans to hear Ian Owens. Because former bass Tim Duncan was a fan favorite, many will be apprehensive about this newest member of Signature Sound. They'll be listening to hear how he impacts the overall sound of the new line-up. Additionally, as each EHSS project has been unique, fans will surely be curious to find out where Here We Are Again takes the quartet. So what's the verdict? Read on....
EHSS wastes no time introducing Ian Owens. They open with "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," which provides him a moment to shine in the second verse. Their arrangement to this gospel standard is lively and fresh, and even includes an unexpected scat breakdown. The guys are clearly having fun!
The energy continues with "Singing in the Midnight Hour." It's a rollicking, blues-infused modern Southern Gospel gem and probably my favorite track on the album. Baritone Doug Anderson's voice is used to great effect as the quartet sings about rescue and deliverance, making references to Jericho and the Rapture. The guys sing: "God's people know that deliverance comes / When the troubles and the trials are finally done / The world keeps bringing on the flood and the fire / But we're still singing...in the midnight hour." This impassioned performance shows unwavering faith that God will not abandon us in our times of trouble.
After that toe-tapper, EHSS turns things down a notch to highlight their signature sound, those beautiful harmonies, as they sing in unison on "Here We Are Again." Ian comes in for the first verse and we discover that his voice has a smooth upper register. Ernie delivers his trademark silky tenor as the quartet sings this praise song about diverse people united in worship.
With "I Believe," the project takes another musical shift. Some may know this pop song from Frankie Laine's 1953 hit, or alternately, from Elvis Presley's 1957 rendition. This is the project's true introduction and feature moment for Ian Owens who performed the song regularly during his tenure with The Imperials. You'll find that Ian's voice has a unique quality and tone, almost operatic, with a higher register that adds a lyrical quality. He carries the song well, with beautiful background harmonies supplied by the rest of EHSS as the song moves from a quiet opening to a big finish.
Next up, it's Devin McGlamery's turn in the spotlight on "I've Been Here Before," the lead-off single for Here We Are Again. Devin's breathy, soulful vocal is augmented by Doug's rich tenor while Ian holds down the bottom as EHSS sings another Southern Gospel-tinged number. Ernie comes in a few times to show his vocal versatility, too. This a strong performance and a great opportunity for the guys to show their blend in a mid-tempo number. The chorus confidently sings of God's steadfast love that helps us weather adversity: "I've been here before and I'll be just fine / I've been here before, time after time / God steps into the fight and settles the score / He's already shown, I don't fight alone / I've been here before."
As this is the first EHSS project on newly-launched Stowtown Records, a joint business venture between Ernie and producer/musical director Wayne Haun, it makes sense that Haun is allowed his own feature song,"You Are Welcome Here." With a very adult-contemporary sound reminiscent of Mark Schultz, this story song was inspired by an encounter Haun had with a fan after a show who expressed gratitude at having felt embraced and welcomed while never feeling similarly received by any church. Although the song has a nice message, extending the welcome beyond the walls of a church to the heart of Jesus, the quartet takes a backseat to Haun with subdued background support.
Next up is a traditional gospel ballad, "Love Carried the Cross." Doug, Devin, and Ernie each take lead on a verse, while the group comes together on the choruses, blending beautifully in an emotional performance as they sing of Jesus' merciful sacrifice: "Although I was hopeless, dying and lost / Love carried the cross."
Lest you be caught sleeping -- and I can't imagine how you would be -- Ernie brings the new lineup back to the group's beginning as they revisit "Stand By Me." It's a daring move, as this song helped Tim Duncan find his way into the hearts of listeners in 2002. Some fans may be reluctant to wholeheartedly embrace this new rendition of a long-treasured favorite. However, judged on its own merit, you'll find that not only does Ian Owens hold his own, but the quartet approaches the song in a new way, adding electric guitar and big band brass to the arrangement. I'm not going to compare the two versions, but I will say that it has been ten years, and if the song is going to stay in the lineup, why not update it a bit and keep it vibrant?
In case reprising "Stand By Me" wasn't a bold enough venture, Ernie ups the ante with the nearly frenetic"Every Time." This song defies categorization. I am grateful to Wayne Haun for likening it to a rowdy 1950s sock-hop. It definitely has a musical theater feel, à la Grease or Hairspray, and Ernie turns a little wild as he cuts loose vocally. It should bring with it an energetic stage performance with audience response, but it may find you scratching your head on first listen because it's a leap from the previous track. Then again, I'm not sure how they could have more suitably segued into this song. I think they want it be a bit of a jolt. As such, it's a successful infusion of energy and fun. And who says a fun song can't still have a message rooted in the gospel? So don't over think it, just shout for joy alongside Ernie as you celebrate God's goodness.
You'll need to quickly shift gears again, as things slow down for the beautiful "Sometimes I Wonder." This song was written during a period where Ernie grieved the passing of father-in-law George Younce and co-writer Joel Lindsey's family also experienced a loss. Together the men wrote a moving piece that asks questions we have all asked when having to say goodbye to loved ones. It's another song highlighting Doug's talent and versatility. He can deliver any melody with warmth and sincerity. Musically the song has an easygoing sound similar to Bread or Glen Campbell. It may be overlooked the way it is sequenced here, but this delicate vocal performance is not to be missed!
"Thankful to You" is in the same vein as "Here We Are Again." While not the standout track on the album, it may be the best showcase for the vocal blend of this new lineup. It's a contemplative, earnest song of thanksgiving to God for all His blessings, and a good opportunity for listeners to pause, reflect, and give thanks. The melody is relaxing and restorative, and this song would have made a nice closer for the album.
Turns out the guys had other ideas for the finale. They've included a live performance from Romania of "Any Other Man." In case you weren't already aware that EHSS is stretching the boundaries, this song smacks you in the face! It's a rowdy, Southern rock burner that you'd expect from a pop/rock outfit like Third Day or even dc Talk circa Jesus Freak. No kidding! It's refreshing to hear an amped up song with a live band that also features the amazing voices of a vocal quartet. With fresh, younger blood -- Devin McGlamery is still just twenty-nine and Ian Owens thirty-one -- the group should bring their high-energy harmonies to new audiences with this rouser. Wow! Talk about a showstopper!
Here We Are Again proves that it is impossible to predict the direction an Ernie Haase & Signature Sound album will take. The project combines several different styles, so it may appeal to a broad spectrum of listeners. The varied approach and broader reach may also have a polarizing effect. While some fans might prefer the old sound and insist that Get Away, Jordan is the watermark for the quartet, there will be those who remain loyal to the group through all their lineup and stylistic changes. One thing is certain, this CD will be a rewarding listen for many. And while a departure from tradition, the record should nevertheless bring a new generation of listeners into the fold, who then may discover the treasure trove of gospel music that inspired these men.
"Singing in the Midnight Hour," "I've Been Here Before," "Love Carried the Cross," "Sometimes I Wonder," and "Any Other Man."
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