CD Review: Across the Lands (Revelation)

Southern Gospel is distinguished as a genre by its vocals. Our vocal blends are rooted in four-part male quartet harmonies—the second highest voice taking the lead, with the highest and lowest voices redefining the boundaries of what a male voice can do. Male trios use the same formula, minus the bass part. Mixed groups with one female voice also follow the same formula, sometimes a couple of keys higher depending on the female vocalist’s range.

Over the years, musical changes in the genre have predominantly been to the tracks / background music. While a piano initially provided the only accompaniment for most groups, live three and four piece bands made a strong showing in the ’60s-early ’90s. In the ’70s and since, new influences have come in from orchestrated Inspirational music, CCM’s Adult Contemporary music (which, in turn, drew its influences from secular pop), and American-rooted genres like bluegrass and country.

Early this year, I was discussing some of this with a friend, and commented that the time was right for a group to incorporate Celtic influences into a Southern Gospel setting. It’s not too far a stretch from Bluegrass-influenced groups to the Celtic sound, since Bluegrass derives its ethnic roots from Scotch-Irish immigrants who had a Celtic heritage.

Well, the time has arrived. The group Revelation is here, and it is worth the wait.

Revelation hails from Northern Ireland, the Protestant portion of the Emerald Isle. Its members, tenor Thomas McCalmont, lead David Strange, and baritone Andy Calderwood share the Celtic roots of their homeland, the Protestant faith of their Scottish Covenanter forebears, and a love of groups like Paid in Full, Greater Vision, and the Gaither Vocal Band.

Most of the songs have been cut before, though several are new to the genre. A song-by-song breakdown:

  1. See What a Morning. From the opening notes, it’s quite evident that this isn’t your typical Southern Gospel project. This modern hymn, co-written by Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townsend, is given an invigorating, uptempo Celtic treatment featuring tenor Thomas McCalmont.
  2. The Greatest Wonder. After the opening track sending the message that Across the Lands will be a unique take on Southern Gospel, this one reassures the listener that it’s indeed a Southern Gospel project. Baritone Andy Calderwood takes the lead on a track that would be just as at home on a Talley Trio or Kingsmen project.
  3. Be Thou My Vision. If you have heard so many versions of “Be Thou My Vision” that you can no longer stand the song, no worries—I was there, too. Note the past tense. There is something incredibly compelling about the fusion of a Celtic-infused track, Irish accents, and Southern Gospel power harmonies. It just works. By the final verse, the arrangement is so broad and expansive that one might almost assume there was an orchestra in the mix—but there isn’t, just an incredibly well-balanced fusion of Celtic and Southern Gospel instrumentation.
  4. Hear the Call of the Kingdom. Lead singer David Strange takes his first full solo of this project (apart from a solo line in verse three of “Be Thou My Vision”), on a track also penned by the Getty/Getty/Townsend combo.
  5. I Will Praise Him Forever. This song was written by Shantell Faulknor of Voices Won, and originally recorded by Voices Won on their Easier to Live project. All three members of the trio have strong Irish accents while speaking, but baritone Andy Calderwood’s voice is the one that most shows his native land through melody; his solo here is one of the best vocal performances on a project full of strong vocal deliveries.
  6. Across the Lands. This is the project’s third (and final) Keith Getty / Stuart Townsend-penned song. The vibrant Celtic-influenced track and appropriately international lyric made this a logical pick for first single. David Strange is featured.
  7. He Looked Beyond My Faults. The Dottie Rambo lyric is set to the Irish “Londonderry Aire” (also known as the tune for “Danny Boy”), making it a must-include for a recording introducing a trio from Ireland to U.S. Southern Gospel audiences. Thomas McCalmont offers a lilting, ethereal delivery; combined with a mellow, pleasant track, this, perhaps surprisingly, ends up as one of the project’s strongest moments.
  8. See Ya Over There. This song, penned by Soul’d Out Quartet lead singer/manager Matt Rankin, offers the most straight-ahead, uptempo convention-style singing we see from Revelation on this project. There’s no solo; the group sings together throughout (though Thomas McCalmont has a step-out line on the turnaround).
  9. He Never Changes. David Strange takes the lead on this slow-paced song, and gives the lyric an appropriately thought-provoking delivery.
  10. Beyond the Open Door. Thomas McCalmont takes the lead on this largely forgotten ballad from the Gaither Vocal Band’s 1990 project A Few Good Men. It’s perhaps the most straight-ahead big ballad on the project, with strings and a well-executed Jeremy Medkiff guitar solo building to a huge chorus/final chorus/bridge.
  11. See What a Morning (encore). After one more chorus of this Getty/Townsend song, tenor Thomas McCalmont closes the project with a narration of John 11:26 and I Cor. 15:53 (“Jesus said, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.'” “Death is swallowed up in victory.”) It’s a fitting end to a project by a group who takes their name from the Bible’s final book—and adds an all-too-brief peek at Revelation’s charming Ulster Scots accents.

Across the Lands isn’t just the best Southern Gospel debut project of the year. It’s one of the five best Southern Gospel projects of the year.

Produced by: Jeff Collins. • Group Members: Thomas McCalmont (tenor), David Strange (baritone), Andy Calderwood (lead). • Review copy provided. • Song list: See, What a Morning; Greatest Wonder; Be Thou My Vision; Hear the Call of the Kingdom; I Will Praise Him Forever; He Looked Beyond My Faults; I’ll See You Over There; He Never Changes; Beyond the Open Door; See What a Morning (Reprise). • Average song rating: 4.55 stars. CD rating: 5 stars.