CD Review: The Touch of the Master’s Hand (Punches Family)

The Touch of the Master's Hand - The Punches FamilyThe Punches Family is a family bluegrass group from Missouri who has started gaining some note on the national Southern Gospel circuit. I saw them live at the Inspirations’ Fall Colors sing last year, commenting that, remarkably, they got a stronger response than the professional, nationally known bluegrass group who followed them. They also recently appeared as a guest performer at the concert launching the Gospel Singing Caravan tour.

The Touch of the Master’s Hand, their latest CD, offers twelve tracks of hymns and Southern Gospel classics. The instrumental arrangements and performances are solid, though not revolutionary. Though the children are still clearly growing into their own as vocalists, these performances are nonetheless strong enough to show great promise for the future. But their potential shouldn’t obscure the fact that they’re well above average for their ages already.

Far and away, the project’s strongest vocal performance is “Is Not This the Land of Beulah.” Either the father or the oldest son takes the first verse; the voice sounds young enough to be the son, but whoever it is is presently the group’s strongest vocalist. The mother takes the second verse, also delivering a solid performance.

Intriguingly, the group takes on two Cathedrals classics, “Wedding Music” and “He Loves Me.” One of the boys has the solo on the former, and one of the girls solos on “He Loves Me.” Not surprisingly, neither rendition tops the original landmark rendition. But since they’re not the all-too-frequent photocopy cover, either, they are so different that there is a sense in which it does not matter.

The family is particularly strong with energetic, uptempo numbers, tearing through “The Walls of Jericho” and “Gospel Medley” with infectious energy.

Occasional vocal imperfections and simple but well-executed instrumental arrangements are ultimately as much or more a selling point than a drawback. This is not over-produced, over-compressed, or over-tuned. It’s refreshingly real. It’s the sort of simple pleasure that would perfectly fit a a leisurely Saturday afternoon drive through the countryside.

Produced by: Anonymous / not credited. • Group Members: Bruce, Bobette, Graham, Owen, Brooke, and Emily Punches. • Review copy provided. • Song list: Gospel Medley; Milk and Honey; Standing in the Need of Prayer;Wedding Music; He Loves Me; Going Up on the Mountain; Land of Beulah; Lord Stay Near to Me; Swing Low Sweet Chariot [actually "Swing Down Chariot"]; The Walls of Jericho; I Want to be Ready; Pass Me Not.

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Concert Review: Perrys, Inspirations, Dove Brothers etc. (Franklin, NC)

UPDATE (5/19/2011): We’ve moved the photo gallery from a separate post to the bottom of this post, the original concert report.

On Saturday, I attended the Inspirations’ Fall Colors sing in Franklin, NC. Time does not permit a detailed report, but here are some highlights:

  • The Punches Family, a bluegrass group from Missouri (parents and four children), got a remarkably strong response. Two sons, thirteen and eleven, play the guitar and banjo; the parents play mandolin (father) and upright bass (mother), and the nine-year-old twin daughters play fiddles and sing. While the cuteness factor undoubtedly played a role in the incredibly strong response (even stronger, in fact, than the professional bluegrass group which followed them), there is enough musical talent in the family, incipient and realized, to show promise of a future where their picking and singing alone will bring the house down.
  • Balsam Range, the current group of former Isaacs/Kingsmen member Tim Surrett, got a mostly warm but not rousing response. I say “mostly” because there was one exception: Tim Surrett introduced the song “Wish You Were Here” by saying that he was going to be singing it on Monday (today) for the funeral of a longtime disabled friend who had just passed away. He said that Balsam Range had never sung the song on stage before. This was reinforced by the fact that banjo player Marc Pruett and mandolin player Darren Nicholson stepped back and did not play on the song; fiddler Buddy Melton played a soft, gentle part, Surrett played bass, and guitarist Caleb Smith stepped up and delivered a remarkably perfect guitar part, carrying the rendition. Both because of the introduction and because the audience was more familiar with Kingsmen music than bluegrass music, the song received the strongest response of their set.
  • The Dove Brothers’ three-piece live band brings an energy to their set that is regrettably fairly unique to current Southern Gospel groups—an energy no soundtrack can reproduce. Dixie Melody Boys tenor Jonathan Price was filling in; despite not even having rehearsed with the group prior to stepping on stage, he did an excellent and (at least very close to) flawless job. As a matter of fact, though former tenor Jerry Martin is one of those incredible talents whose shoes in that regard are virtually impossible to fill, Price blends better with lead singer McCray Dove. He was slightly tentative on the first song—slightly enough that it probably took someone who has watched both Price and the Dove Brothers in person before to notice—but delivered a strong performance.
  • Speaking of great blend with a fill-in, the Perrys called their old pianist Matthew Holt out to fill in on baritone for the weekend, following Troy Peach’s departure last week. Holt’s warm baritone tones were an excellent match for his longtime friend and co-writer Joseph Habedank’s warm but more commanding lead vocals—and as a matter of fact, I can say as one who has heard every Perrys lineup since 1984 (pre-Tracy Stuffle) on recording and every lineup since 2004 or 2005 in person that this is the best-matched, tightest Perrys vocal lineup I have ever heard. I am certain that Bryan Walker will be a good vocalist, but I left the concert wishing that somehow Holt, who now runs a college music program, could have been persuaded to stay. The Perrys’ closing song, “If You Knew Him,” got the strongest response of any song all day. The response it received from an audience who came out to hear the Inspirations’ acoustic mountain style leaves no doubt that it was worthy of its “Song of the Year” title.
  • The Inspirations delivered a strong set. New tenor Jodi Hosterman seems to be getting comfortable in his own shoes—it takes a certain amount of courage to take on “Two Shoes” and “Touring That City” in front of an essentially hometown audience who has been listening to Archie Watkins for over four decades. Lead singer David Ragan, meanwhile, is visibly having a great time on stage with this lineup, hitting the high Fs and Gs to keep up with Hosterman’s incredibly high range, and endings that have never before been heard on Inspirations songs. An all-acapella rendition of “That’s Why I Call it Home,” featuring Ragan and baritone singer Melton Campbell, got the strongest response of the Inspirations’ set.
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