CD Review: Live in Music City (Legacy Five)

Legacy Five recently released Live in Music City, a project billed as their first live release. This isn’t technically accurate, since they have released several live videos, as well as one previous live CD, Live at the Palace (with Greater Vision). But this is their first live project on which they introduce new songs.

Legacy Five takes the stage with “Strike Up the Band,” an up-tempo Dianne Wilkinson tune featuring Scott Fowler (and a brief piano solo from Roger Bennett).

No sooner do the notes of this song fade out than the introduction to the second song, “The Blood Covers it All.” The song, which features Scott Howard on the first verse and Scott Fowler on the second, is one whose appeal might not be evident on the first time you listen through the project. Its placement could leave a first impression of the song as a song meant to calm the audience down immediately after the up-tempo opener. But taking the song out of the context of the concert lets it shine as one of the nicest ballads Legacy Five has recorded.

The third song on the project, “Temporary Tomb,” is introduced as the first Rodney Griffin song that Legacy Five has Recorded. Roger Bennett set the song up by stating that Griffin, baritone for Greater Vision and songwriter of the year every year, saves the best songs for Greater Vision and sends Legacy Five the “rejects.” Legacy Five didn’t get to see “My Name is Lazarus,” “God Wants to Hear You Sing,” or “Faces.” But finally, Bennett said, Griffin had sent them a winner.

So just how good is “Temporary Tomb”? Let’s get one thing out of the way right off: It’s no “My Name is Lazarus.” It probably isn’t one of the ten best songs Rodney Griffin has ever written. But, that out of the way, it is a nice song. It’s nowhere near as bad as others have rated it.

The fourth song, “I Have Been Changed,” is the highlight of the project. The song, a slow song featuring Glenn Dustin, is a song ideally suited for the live concert setting; audiences will love it the first time they hear it. It has that rare combination of all three elements that make a song ideally suited for a live setting: It’s (1) a slow testimony song, that connects with the audiences, (2) has a unique vocal arrangement that captures the audience’s attention, and (3) has a big ending.

Any one of these three things makes a song a good live song, but it’s incredibly rare that one song has all three. Songs with a unique vocal arrangement that captures the audience’s attention (e.g., “Get Away Jordan” or “The Devil Can’t Harm a Praying Man”) are rarely the slow-paced testimony songs in which the singer reaches your hearts. They are the songs in which the singers get your attention. On the other hand, the slow-paced testimony songs with the big endings rarely work in vocal effects that get the audience excited. Yet “I Have been Changed” has both sorts of “applause moments”-the testimony applause when Glenn Dustin finishes the second verse, and the vocal harmonics applause at the inverted “all” leading into the tag.

A song that has both has that rare combination that could not only make the song a classic, but could boost the career of the group fortunate enough to record it. Daywind would do well to send this song out to radio as the first or second single from the project. In fact, there is already an indication that this may be in the works; a sharp pair of eyes at the Singing News Message Board noticed that the CD, which I have seen, has a tag that the DVD, which I have not yet seen, does not have. It is improbable that Daywind and Legacy Five would take the trouble to go back into the studio to record an extra tag unless they planned to send the song to radio. I have listened to the album ten complete times before posting the review, but I keep coming back for more on this song. I’ve played it twenty times and haven’t tired of it yet.

Scott Fowler is featured on “Don’t Go Swimming,” a song co-written by John Colgin and Dove Brothers pianist Jerry Kelso. In light of Bennett’s comedic monologue on Rodney Griffin and Greater Vision “rejects,” one wonders if the songs Jerry Kelso sends to Legacy Five are Dove Brothers “rejects.” It is difficult to imagine the Dove Brothers doing this song; it does fit Legacy Five’s style better. The song includes another short Roger Bennett piano solo.

Frank Seamans and Roger Bennett both give extended testimonies to introduce one of their featured songs. Frank’s testimony testimony sets up “Peace (When I Leave it in Your Hands),” a nice ballad. Roger Bennett’s testimony leads into the song “Stay Close to Me.” Sandwiched between the two testimony songs is a Dianne Wilkinson song, “The Right Side of the Dirt,” a song made memorable by Glenn Dustin hitting the lowest recorded notes of his career (namely, the lowest F-sharp on the piano, on the phrase “livin’ on the right side.” Though he has hit the note before–on “Raised to Walk” from Monuments–he has not stayed that low for an entire phrase before.)

Scott Fowler is featured on a third Dianne Wilkinson song, “Jesus Will Never Change.” This live concert features Fowler’s abilities as a lead singer to a greater extent than some of Legacy Five’s studio albums. He is featured on more songs and takes a greater role in the program, although Bennett and Seamans remain the two “talkers” in the group.

Roger Bennett and Scott Fowler both take solos on “But God,” a song Rodney Griffin co-wrote with Twila McBride.

The Voices of Lee choir joins Legacy Five for their rendition of the choir song “My, My, My.”

The album closes with the anthem “Truth is Marching On.” Referring to the fact that it is Gold City’s current radio single, Roger Bennett said during one of Legacy Five’s sets at the National Quartet that Legacy Five would probably never release the song to radio. Yet it goes over well with the audience, in part because Bennett sets up the song ably by referring to recent attacks on Christianity and by reaffirming Legacy Five’s stance on the inspired Word of God and the divinity of Christ. The song is ably executed and is one of the album’s standout tracks.
This CD contains several songs whose appeal is not immediately apparent. Songs like “The Blood Covers it All” and “But God” don’t jump out as standout selections on the first listen. But they grow on you over time. Songs like this are more commonly found on studio projects, while live projects more frequently feature songs that should instantly connect with audiences. But, in a sense, this is a studio project with vocals taped live. Every song has a full orchestral soundtrack, though Bennett adds extra piano flourishes in the live concert.

Will this project go down as one of the all-time great Southern Gospel live concert recordings?

Only time will tell. It has a heavier reliance on soundtracks than most of the classic live performances of yesteryear, but it could be argued that this is endemic of a change in the entire industry. The general trend has been away from live bands and toward soundtracks. This is positive in that it permits a wider musical variety in accompaniment (name a quartet that could take an orchestra on tour!), but negative in that it inhibits spontaneity. Groups’ options for reprises, turnarounds, and encores can be confined within the limits of what the pre-recorded soundtrack can do.

Yet this Legacy Five project has its moments of spontaneity, the finest of which is easily “I Have Been Changed.” Though the crowd doesn’t quite get the vocal inversion the first time, on the other three times their response gets progressively more enthusiastic as Frank Seamans takes hold of the word “All” and makes it his own, Scott Fowler adds a second “all,” Scott Howard completes the chord and adds his own “all,” and then Glenn Dustin comes in with his “all” as the chorus kicks in, the crowd goes wild, and Legacy Five launches into another reprise. This song has the makings of a classic moment in Southern Gospel, and makes the project one of the best live Southern Gospel concert recordings to be released this decade.