Pure Love is one of Legacy Five’s all-time most anticipated releases. The group recently saw a substantial vocal transition, with acclaimed songwriter Lee Black replacing outgoing tenor Josh Feemster and baritone Bryan Walker replacing founding member and twenty-year veteran Scott Howard.
This album takes the opportunity to begin a redefinition of the group’s sound. It’s less a fully-fleshed-out reinvention and more an experiment. The group tries several possible approaches on for size: Americana/Bluegrass influences on “What a Day” and “The Greatest Wonder” and progressive arrangements on “Beggin’ For Change” and “Middle Man.” The rest of the album explores smaller tweaks to the group’s established formulas.
This new vocal lineup is exceptional. In terms of sheer raw horsepower of individual talent, they may never top their debut lineup. But this lineup has a better blend—their best blend yet—without giving up much in individual talent.
Josh Cobb was Pedro Martinez and Lee Black is Greg Maddux, but both get the job done in their own way. Cobb has more raw power, less control. Black has adequate power and excellent control, with a tone rather reminiscent of Chris Allman.
Those who have known Bryan Walker’s body of work for over a decade know what he can bring to a quartet. We don’t see as much of it here as we might hope. At points, he seems to tip his cap to Scott Howard’s placement and tone, perhaps to ease the transition for long-time fans who have grown familiar with it for the last twenty years. His own defining, signature songs with Legacy Five await future releases.
Bass singer Matt Fouch is strong as always, especially on “Begging for Change” and on “What Kind of Man,” where he only has one solo line but makes it the emotional peak of the song.
Scott Fowler largely gives fans what they’ve come to expect, though he tries a somewhat warmer, more contemporary tone on for size in “What a Day.” It’s a tone we have heard before (see “Welcome To Our World”) but not for several years.
If you come to Christian music hoping for creative, thoughtful lyrics, “What Kind of Man” is reason enough to by the CD.
Bryan Walker sings a verse about the crucifixion in character as Barabbas. Scott Fowler’s verse is in character as Thomas. Lee Black sings a third verse from Peter’s perspective.
The high point of the song and the album comes in the bridge. Each singer breaks character, delivering a line still in first person, but now as themselves.
Bryan Walker reflects, “I’ve been Barabbas, the guilty set free.”
Scott Fowler sings with dashing confidence, “I have been Thomas, the doubter redeemed.”
Lee Black sings, “I have been Peter.”
Then there’s a pause.
Then, out of nowhere, comes a voice you haven’t heard all song, except in harmonies. Bass singer Matt Fouch delivers the punch line.
“Yes, I’ve been all three.”
Are you a top-tier Southern Gospel group, over the last few years? Is Wayne Haun is producing your mainline project? If so, chances are you have one or two Americana/roots-influenced songs. Several years ago, that would guarantee some automatic creativity points. It’s expected enough now to be a pleasing but anticipated part of the formula.
Pure Love has two, “What a Day” and “The Greatest Wonder.”
“What A Day” is an idea we’ve heard written any number of times. So this song likely wasn’t picked because of lyrical creativity. It does fulfill a role; if Wayne Haun produces a mainline release for a top-tier group, over these last few years, the album generally has an Americana-influenced song.
“The Greatest Wonder” shares a title and theme with a song Northern Ireland’s Revelation trio recorded several years ago. But since far too few heard the earlier song, not many will notice the parallels. Of the two Americana songs on Pure Love, this one has the stronger melody and lyric.
The progressive influence on the project comes largely from two Joseph Habedank covers. He originally recorded “Beggin’ For Change” on Welcome Home (2014) and “Middle Man” on Resurrection (2017). Since both are top-tier artists on the Daywind roster, two years seems to be a rather quick turnaround time for a song cover. But perhaps there’s little enough overlap in the two artists’ audiences for this not to matter.
There is an odd moment also worth noting on the bridge of “Only Passing Through.” The song is in the key of A. The bridge begins with a musically exhilarating chord progression of A to F#m to D-flat. At this point, Lee Black’s tenor melody is soaring to the lyric of “Passin’ through this world below.” But then, for the next line, the chords are A and E.
Musically, it feels like a transposition down several keys (because it is). Mid-bridge is when the Southern Gospel formula calls for the big chord progression to kick in, building the momentum into the final chorus. But the chord transposition unexpectedly stalls the momentum. Perhaps this is intentional and creative. It’s certainly different and unexpected.
Pure Love is more focused on Christianity experienced than Christianity defined. A motif running through several of the songs is that the felt experience of a believer is superior. This comes through most clearly in the opening lines of “I Believe the Book,” where theology is equated with opinions and peoples’ points of view:
“I’ve heard theologies and I’ve heard philosophies
“People have opinions and their own point of view”
In a similar vein, “That’s What Makes Believers Believe” starts with experiential religion. Why do we know God cares about us? The first verse answers with a baby’s cry, a warm sunrise, and a sinner’s prayer.
The chorus gives a more traditional, theologically sound response, referring to God’s effective call on the believer’s life: “It’s the whisper deep inside your heart that says ‘Come, follow me,’ / That’s what makes believers believe.”
Francis of Assisi is credited, possibly apocryphally, with the quote “Preach the Gospel. When necessary, use words.” But words are always necessary. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). It would have been nice to see the role of the proclamation of the Gospel more present in this song. Of course, we should take this song in the context of Legacy Five’s entire canon of work.
Use of Scripture
Consistently with the felt-experience over theology motif, most of its Scriptural references are drawn from the Gospel narratives instead of the epistles or the Old Testament.
There is a passing reference to I Corinthians 13 in “Love Always Finds a Way,” but the song’s main reference point is the narrative of four men lowering another man through the roof to be healed by Jesus (Mark 2:4).
The other three songs with substantial Biblical allusions are all focused on the narratives.
The three verses of “What Kind of Man” each portray the crucifixion and resurrection from a different perspective—Barabbas (Matthew 27:15-26, Mark 15:6-15, Luke 23:13-25, and John 18:39-40), Thomas (John 20:24-29), and Peter (Matthew 26:35, Mark 14:31, Matthew 26:75, Mark 14:72, Luke 22:61, and John 13:38).
The first verse “Love, Pure Love” retells the story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with an alabaster box of oil (Matthew 26:7, Mark 14:3, Luke 7:37).
“Not Just Another Day” has a line each referencing the stories of Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), Lazarus (John 11), and the leper.
In an era of music that is quickly heard, quickly enjoyed, yet quickly forgotten, Pure Love rewards repeated listens and careful reflection. It’s worth taking seriously.