Karen Peck & New River – “Reach Out”
To be perfectly honest, I’ve never been into Karen Peck & New River. Not because I don’t think they are of quality in southern gospel, I guess I just missed the boat in the early stages of my affiliation of this genre. I liked The Nelons, so I know I should have paid more attention. I just never got struck with New River fever. So in reviewing “Reach Out”, I tried to figure out why I never got into their music. This self-discovery was realized on the first mellow song. Sometimes I felt as if she sang like she was campaigning for global peace. She has a very nice, sweet and pleasant voice that makes me want to eat organic fruit and vegetables. That’s not a knock at all. Her voice is just sweet, pure and soft…and I think of gardens and global peace when I hear it. Even in Karen’s borderline crying voice, I find it compelling. At least compelling enough to believe that she believes what she sings and to give it a few listens. She’s a sweetheart. And that’s the truth. She’s real and genuine. The good news is, she has a relatively large fan base. And a double dose of good news is, that I found this project to be pretty good overall.
The production is top notch for this genre. And most of the songs are styled almost in my personal wheelhouse. It’s not the Perry’s, or Triumphant, or EHSS’ albums that help me to conclude that Wayne Haun is a master at what he does. It’s projects like this. Stuff I wouldn’t normally buy, but glad I own a copy…and had I borrowed this from a friend, I may have bought it later. KP&NR have always infused a blend of a musical styles. It’s not really bluegrass, it’s not really country, it’s not really folk, inspo, CCM, or even fully southern gospel. But it’s all of it. I am a fan of that, if you can pull it off. I think some groups don’t do THAT style well because the group itself is not built for THAT style. But KP&NR can pull it off…or at least, they have found success in it and stick to it. Ride the horse that got you there, I suppose. And if anyone can help maintain the type of variety, it’s Haun. I find the song selection to be mostly good. There are a couple of duds, but for the most part everything is, well…pleasant. And that certainly embodies KP’s apparent context and how she uses what she has to create something delicate and purposeful.
A few things I did notice while listening…
1) Jeff Hawes should be featured more. Bottom line. I know it’s not Jeff Hawes and New River, but give the dude 2 or 3 more songs. He’s too good of a singer.
2) Wayne Haun.
3) Even if I wasn’t particularly enthralled with a few songs, the musical direction of this project is right in their wheelhouse, and borders my own.
4) Karen Peck still gets it done.
5) Wayne Haun.
6) Can I also say that this reviewer is really stretching by reviewing southern gospel music? However, this is the kind of crowd that enjoys KP&NR, and ultimately I suppose it’s healthy for the genre.
Because of a relatively busy summer and 4th of July week, I didn’t have the time to make this the most comprehensive work I’ve written, but I did feel the need to get this out before the release date. I hope it satisfies.
Mighty Big God: I like what this song tries to do. It’s fast and catchy with a great country feel. Definitely commercial driven. Written by the Yeary duo, it’s cut in that vein. It contains some creative harmonies. I realize that God is in control of everything, but is he really your “banker”? What I mean is, are we tuned into in the centrality of God’s holiness that He also becomes our banker? In that case, He’s my vet, personal gardener, grocery bagger…you get my point. Technically, I don’t think there is anything wrong with the lyric…this is southern gospel and the lyrics are more acceptable in this genre than in others. You could come up with a thousand different things to say about God other than “He’s my banker”.
On The Banks of The Promised Land: This is a quality, quality gospel song. It reminds me of 3 different songs wrapped into one, but in a musical genre so restricted it’s hard to find new melodies where there is not some resistance to something different. The arrangement is exquisite. I love the Peck & Hawes harmony in this piece. Once again, wish he was featured a little more. Lyrically solid. This is geared toward the primarily southern gospel fan, and it should do well on radio. And Haun delights my ear to some terrific playing.
Love With All Your Heart: This is the type of song where Karen really shines. This song is essentially where the thought crossed my mind, that this is a global peace anthem, hearkening back to my previous comment in how her voice is so sweet and pure, reminding me flowers and organic vegetables. I’m not personally enamored with the song, but it semi-focuses on the soothing aspect of the project. Lyrically, it’s a little flat and un-inspiring. But I can deal with it.
Sustaining Grace: Finally, an accurate portrait of suffering and the human struggle of God not performing as our personal “call boy”. This song hits on exactly what the title says it does, “sustaining grace”. We expect miracles in our lives in the midst of struggle and pain, but God uses it for other purposes in His glory and doesn’t rush to resolve our problems right away, forcing us to question, seek Him, and trust in Him through it…even if we don’t get removed from the problem itself. We are the miracle, as in God’s grace is the miracle anyways…what else do we need? We’ve been set free and redeemed from sin? Isn’t that enough? That’s grace in itself. “It is well with my soul”, right?
Good Things Are Happening: Wayne Haun. He makes this song come alive with his piano stylings. Ultimately, it’s why I like the song. The song doesn’t really have a deep message, but it’s light and encouraging. My first thought is that this would have been a great first track.
This Is What Mercy Does: In short, I find this to be the best song on the project. And Hawes does a standout job. I think he’s got more in store for us if he sticks with this genre. As well as he does, I almost feel that he’s being held back a little bit. Not necessarily by Karen Peck or the group in general, but it’s clear he put energy and power into this song…I think there’s more in the tank, untapped or hesitant perhaps.
More Than Enough: A nice Irish intro, and we’re set to go. Have I stated that Wayne Haun is the man? This arrangement fits right into everything the song seeks out to do. This is my 2nd favorite song, I suppose. The transition from the verses to the chorus is seamless and beautiful. The last verse is dynamite and Karen drives it with an emotionally drenched delivery. I feel as if I’m listening to an old GVB song. Actually I am. I mean Karen is not David Phelps, but it turned out wonderfully. If this song was not on the project, I’d have an entirely different view of the project as a whole, I think. This song adds some meat where other songs may be lacking.
Don’t Worry About The Waves: It’s catchy. And it’s a great track. Most importantly, another up-tempo song in which they can try to get their audience up and clapping, we’re hoping with success.
Faithful Love of Jesus: When I first heard this song, I was thinking “The Judds”. It’s the better of the two songs by Susan. Susan provides a nice soothing performance, with a timely message. “The height, the depth, the width, the breadth, the faithful love of Jesus”. The lyric is subtle, but after hearing it a few times, my soul was encouraged. My, the magnitude of His love for us. We cannot comprehend it.
Broken Into Beautiful: This is a beautiful arrangement about God’s transforming power. No drums, no guitar. Piano and strings. One thing I really like about this project, is that it stays true to its theme. It’s almost a concept album of sorts. They diligently sought songs that compliment each other very well and connect the dots, so to speak. The transforming power of God’s grace is really what seems to be the climax of it, and this song aptly applies that here. Karen gives a chilling, and deeply touching performance.
Reach Out And Touch: Diana Ross? Ok, it works. I know I grilled The Martins’ new project a bit for lack of the strength of the lyrics, but since KP&NR actually mention Christ and Jesus and the Cross in the album, I can easily let this slide and don’t quite see it fit to answer questions about contradicting myself. Karen and Hawes both nail their verses. Once again, listen to the 2nd verse that Hawes delivers, and tell me he should have another feature or two.
Summary: Karen Peck can sing. And she’s got a great audience. When you can cross over like she does without a hitch, it makes you wonder. Even though she delves into a vast foray of styles, it’s still essentially branded as southern gospel. I like the progressive stuff on here. For many groups, it works. I assume it may work with Dan Keeton & GC, but definitely worked when Cobb and Bruce T. were there. Their voices matched the style they were going for. The Kingsmen…I haven’t heard the new project so I can’t rightly comment, but even with their last projects, it’s hard to pin-point a set musical direction that accurately matched their voices. Hawes compliments the Peck sisters beautifully, and I hope he comes into his own. I imagine he will. Haun made this presence known with the opening lick. I think he brought out the best in this project, adding some touches that enhanced the “Reach Out” experience for me (as I’ve already shared).
The meat of the project lies in the middle. Some of it is fluffy, and some is commercial, but if that garners Grammy nominations, product sales, and Christ is sang about, then press on! Half of the project is really good. The other half either tries really hard to be good, or is “almost” really good. But musically and vocally, I don’t think it could be done much better than what it was, as that aspect of the recording was superb. I’m not sure if we have a “Four Days Late” type of impact on here, but I can rest in the fact that quality is better than quantity. The project remains fresh for the most part, and I stated earlier, the theme seems to be woven together very well reflecting on God’s transforming grace and “reaching out” to show others what this transforming grace is all about by putting it into action. Hopefully somewhere, someone will listen to the message in some of these songs and be so compelled to put the Gospel into action. And I think in that respect, the project also succeeds.
If you like KP&NR, be sure to pick up a copy. If you’ve never really been into them, a few of the cuts are worth trying something new to listen to. It’s really hard not to take a little bit of interest in somebody as sweet as Karen Peck. You can pick it up here. It will be released next Tuesday, 7/12/11. Be looking for some type of “marketing event” from Daywind. Should be good.