Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Barnes Family Reunion II (review)

The Barnes Family Reunion II
The Barnes Family
AIR Records/Malaco Records 2008

Who springs immediately to mind when thinking about gospel singing families are Motor City dynasties the Moss/Clarks and the Winans Families, and the Bay Area’s famed Hawkins Family. But let us not forget about another popular singing family, the Barnes of Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

The Barnes Family first exploded on the national gospel scene in 1983 when Bishop F.C. Barnes, pastor and founder of Red Budd Holy Church, teamed up with Sister Janice Brown on a song he wrote, “Rough Side of the Mountain,” as laid back and infectious a gospel hit as ever you’re likely to hear. The recording became a blockbuster. The duo continued to take simple gospel songs and sell them so well that they became part of the collective unconscious of the African American church.

Meanwhile, Bishop F.C.'s son Luther Barnes joined the Sunset Jubilaires, which gained tremendous popularity in the quartet community. Single-handedly, the Barnes Family transformed Atlanta International Records from an indie label into a gospel music powerhouse.

Nine years ago, the Barnes Family gathered to release a reunion album on AIR, a two-disc project that featured the relaxed, back home church feel and simple message that has come to define this singing family's style. The recently released second volume, also a two-CD set, showcases more of the individual and collective talents of Bishop F.C., Luther and the Sunset Jubilaires, Melvin and Martha Barnes, Deborah Barnes and Mark Greene & Family.

High moments on the two-disc set are a-plenty, including Bishop F.C.’s impassioned vocal fronting the Red Budd Gospel Choir’s quartet arrangement of the classic “Old Ship of Zion,” and the Sunset Jubilaires’ work on the driving “So Good to Be Here.” Wanda Morgan tears up on the vamp to “Carry Me to That Other Shore” like Diane Williams of the Warriors, and returns to lead another hand-clapper, “I Owe God Praise.” “You Keep On Blessing Me” and “It’s Your Time,” two recent Luther Barnes hits, get a fine live treatment. The “Old Revival Medley,” led by Luther and Deborah, is a delightful nine-minute tour de force that demonstrates the Barnes sound at its finest.

The project would have been even better had the microphone been turned up a little higher on the live audience, as I’m sure there was plenty of give and take going on, but it is hard to discern. Regardless, the Barnes Family Reunion II is an enjoyable listening experience from the opening notes to the closing bars.

Three and a Half of Four Stars

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