CD Review: The Answer (Collingsworth Family)

When I interviewed Phil Collingsworth for this site’s April feature article, he explained why the Collingsworth Family only releases a project every other year:

It might be interesting for you to know that our cost of recording an album is almost triple what some of the other ones are. That’s what we put into it, because we put time into it, and time is money when you’re in the recording studio. We put a great deal of time into it because we want it to be a lasting product—something you listen to years down the road and say, “That’s still good quality.” We feel quality rather than quantity is the key issue here.

This attention to quality has paid off, since each of their projects has been a noticeable step up from the previous. Strength for the Journey (2003) was good enough to launch them into the national Southern Gospel scene. God Is Faithful (2005) was good enough to launch them onto the Gaither Homecoming scene. We Still Believe (2007) was a project worthy of a Gaither Homecoming tour artist. And, somehow, The Answer is even better.

Like every other Collingsworth project, The Answer includes a wide variety of vocal and instrumental configurations. Spreading six or seven configurations between fourteen songs—and that’s not even counting things like a Phil/Kim duet on a verse of “Oh the Thought that Jesus Loves Me”—gives the album the same variety their live programs feature.

The most noticeable change is a decreased reliance on the soprano/alto/baritone trio. In their earlier years on the road, many of their vocal songs featured Phil and Kim with their oldest daughter, Brooklyn, probably since she would have been the only child able to hold a part by herself. As the other siblings become capable vocalists in their own right, they have increasing liberty to reserve this lineup for the songs that it best fits. Only three songs use this configuration: “Jesus is Still the Answer,” the old Lanny Wolfe Trio classic, which has been getting a strong response at live concerts, a new Kyla Rowland/Dianne Wilkinson-penned ballad called “Within the Reach of a Prayer,” and a rare composition by Phil Collingsworth himself, “Bottom of the Barrel.” The latter track is the project’s first radio single.

Two other trios are featured. A trio of the Collingsworth teens (at the time of the recording; Brooklyn has since turned twenty) sings “Count Your Blessings Again.” It’s a new song penned by Daryl Williams and the project’s producer, Wayne Haun; it is also one of two tracks with a more progressive arrangement than they have used on past projects. The other, “I Shall Not Be Moved,” is the same song that Palmetto State recorded in 2006 on When it Pours, God Reigns. But the song is so completely reinvented that you’d have to compare the songs back to back to be fully convinced that it’s the same song.

Of all the various vocal configurations, the female trio of Brooklyn, Courtney, and Kim has the most unique and distinctive sound. It was the only lineup other than the entire family to be featured in the Collingsworth Family’s first appearance at a Gaither taping. During the two-day taping that produced Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, Rock of Ages, Nashville Homecoming, and Joy in My Heart, the entire family sang “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You” and the ladies’ trio saing “God is in the Shadows.” Of that latter appearance, I said:

. . . Of all the vocal configurations the Collingsworth Family uses in any given concert, this female trio is possibly their best and certainly their most distinctive. The Collingsworth ladies are Southern Gospel’s female Booth Brothers. They match their enunciation and vocal placement more precisely than any other group in the genre (besides, perhaps, the Booth Brothers, the Isaacs, and Voices Won).

This lineup is featured on two of the projects’ best songs, “Fear Not Tomorrow” and “Ever Gentle, Ever Sweet.” The latter song is the same mid-tempo song that the Bill Gaither Trio recorded in 1974 on Because He Lives. But despite the (well-deserved) legendary status of the Bill Gaither Trio, their version can’t touch the simple beauty of this one.

With “Fear Not Tomorrow,” the ladies’ trio proves its abilities are not restricted to mid-tempo numbers. I saw the Collingsworth Family the weekend after their project came out, and though this was the first time that the audience ever heard this power ballad, it brought down the house with one of the biggest responses of the night.

A new vocal configuration appears for the first time on this project: Phil, Kim, Brooklyn, and Courtney sing the project’s closing track, “More than Anything.” This quartet would be a strong default configuration for the group; adding Courtney to the mix gives the mixed quartet a much fuller, warmer tone than the mixed trio has.

Though the original plan for the project called for no instrumentals, evidently plans changed before the project was complete. Phil does a trumpet solo on “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” while Kim is featured with a piano solo on “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

There are two other songs that the review wouldn’t be complete without a mention. “I Want a Principle Within” is a magnificent, sweeping rendition of a Charles Wesley hymn largely forgotten except in some holiness circles. The hymn deserved to be brought back, and this rendition does justice to the strength of the lyric and grandeur of the melody.

Since words fail me when discussing “Oh, the Thought that Jesus Loves Me,” I’ll resort to statistics. About the time I started this site, I switched from Windows Media Player to iTunes. Since I don’t re-set play counts, my automatically generated top 200 list tracks each time a song has been played for the last three or four years. After just a month of having this CD, “Oh, the Thought that Jesus Loves Me” is at #6 out of 19,319 tracks. It’s that good.

In closing, a few words need to be said about where this album positions the Collingsworth Family. In addition to a strong assortment of new songs, the project has three hymns (one vocal, two instrumental), several familiar Southern Gospel selections, and two or three songs from Inspirational music. Specifically, that latter group of songs is “Jesus is Still the Answer” (Lanny Wolfe Trio), “I Want Jesus More than Anything” (Truth), and depending on if you count the Bill Gaither Trio (which, historically speaking, you should), “Ever Gentle Ever Sweet.”

The audience of aging music fans that loved Inspirational music back in the 1970s is a largely untapped market right now. Contemporary Christian music long since passed them by, and though many have some familiarity with the Gaither television specials, many more have no idea that anything like the style they used to love can now be found again. The Answer fuses the best of both genres in a way that, if properly marketed, will win many new fans.

Rating: 5 stars. ♦ Average song rating: 4.3 stars. ♦ Group members: Phil, Kim, Brooklyn, Courtney, Phil Jr., and Olivia Collingsworth. ♦ Produced by: Wayne Haun. ♦ Review copy provided. ♦ Song list: I Shall Not Be Moved; Fear Not Tomorrow; I Could Never Praise Him Enough; When the Roll is Called Up Yonder; I Want a Principle Within; I Know; Ever Gentle Ever Sweet; Jesus is Still the Answer; Count Your Blessings Again; Within the Reach of a Prayer; Oh the Thought that Jesus Loves Me; Bottom of the Barrel; Great is Thy Faithfulness; More Than Anything.