CD Review: Lifetime (Mark Trammell Quartet)

Most of the time, when a Southern Gospel group records an album of hymns and classic songs, it is a low-budget project with simple arrangements, basic soundtracks, predictable song selection, and no unifying theme. Lifetime is a shining exception to the rule.

Let’s start with the arrangements. Yes, Lari Goss brought his golden touch to the orchestrations. No, that doesn’t mean that the album is overloaded with slow anthems. In fact, four of the strongest tracks—”Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” “Way Past Ready,” “Wonderful Time Up There,” and “Meet Me Over on the Other Side”—are fast or at least on the fast side of mid-tempo.

The instrumental and vocal arrangements are fresh and creative. Mark Trammell could have been forgiven for reviving the unforgettable arrangement of “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” that he helped popularize fifteen years ago with Gold City. But he doesn’t; a prominent syncopated bass gives the track a distinctly different feel. Pat Barker’s bass solos are also remarkable; who would have thought of handing a bass singer songs that are traditionally a tenor solo (“Touring the City,” Archie Watkins’ signature song) and a soprano solo (“We Shall Behold Him,” Sandi Patty’s first signature song)?

Of course, though, Goss and Trammell are smart enough to avoid the trap of being different just to be different. Pat Barker’s feature on “Wonderful Time Up There” doesn’t stray far from previous versions. But it didn’t have to, because the track and vocals are executed with a precision and flair that makes this track the finest recorded version of the song to date.

That’s not the only song that stays close to earlier versions but turns in the definitive version with a better execution. What Lari Goss did with the arrangement of “The King is Coming” is exactly what you would expect him to do with the song. But it’s a fastball that Mark Trammell, who has the solo, swings and hits into the stratosphere.

As always with a full-budget Lari Goss project, there are a number of hymn bridges. It’s hard to pull off a hymn bridge that adds more than it detracts and distracts, but several—”Footprints of Jesus” with “Where He Leads, I’ll Follow,” “Too Much to Gain to Lose” with “We Shall Behold Him,” and the whole “Garden City Tour Medley”—are quite effective. The only one that flows less smoothly than one might desire is the “I’m Free” pairing with “The King is Coming.”

New lead singer Nick Trammell joined part of the way through the recording process. He does not have any solo vocals, though his voice is a solid presence in the mix whenever the arrangement calls for the lead singer to anchor the quartet harmonies. Meanwhile, veterans Eric Phillips (tenor), Mark Trammell (baritone), and Pat Barker (bass) each turn in some of their career-strongest vocal performances.

In the booklet, Mark Trammell offers extensive autobiographical liner notes, tying each song on the album into his life story. Priceless details make this collection far greater than the sum of its parts. Just to name two: “Footprints of Jesus” was a song he sang with his brothers at the first revival he ever remembers attending, and “We’ll Tour the Golden City” was one of the songs he played with when learning to play bass guitar—and co-producer Lari Goss’s first orchestration!

Lifetime demonstrates the Mark Trammell Quartet’s diversity. Two of their previous three albums—Always Have a Song (2008, reviewed here) and Treasures (2011, reviewed here)—received five-star ratings on this site. The former was an album of new songs; the latter, a classics project with simpler, piano/bass/percussion-based arrangements. This album is of an entirely different variety—a lushly orchestrated album stylistically reminiscent of Greater Vision’s landmark Hymns of the Ages album, but with the added richness that a bass vocal adds to male harmonies. It turns out that the Mark Trammell Quartet is equally adept in this setting.

Lifetime is a five-star album, and joins The Talleys’ Love Won as one of the two strongest albums released this year.

Traditional or Progressive: Middle-of-the-road / fully-orchestrated.

Credits: Group members: Eric Phillips (tenor), Nick Trammell (lead), Mark Trammell (baritone), Pat Barker (bass). Produced by Lari Goss and Mark Trammell.

Song List: Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah; ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus; Way Past Ready; Garden City Tour Medley; Too Much to Gain to Lose; Meet Me Over on the Other Side; Footprints of Jesus; I Sing the Mighty Power; The King is Coming Medley.

Average song rating: 4.5 stars.

Rating: 5 stars.