When I was in college, I played in a unique musical group composed of seemingly disparate instrumentation. It was a full choir/symphonic orchestra/rock band combination. That may sound like an odd smorgasbord of styles, but the versatility allowed us to play everything from gospel to 90s rock to blues to ballads. This type of music is certainly fun to play along to - and it requires a great deal of musicianship to pull off - but if not done properly, it can come across as simply too much. In some ways, that context accurately describes the latest release from Southern Gospel gurus The Talleys, Finest Hour. In all of its theatrical bombast, the impressive abilities of each member isn't enough to create a cohesive, soulful project.
Opening track "Look Up" serves as a great template for all of the pros and cons present on Finest Hour. With at least five key modulations, and a dramatic energy behind the performances, it's easy to feel inspired on a surface level. There is great vocal production that adeptly supports the family trio of Roger, Debra, and Lauren Talley, and they each provide a unique flavor to their harmony. However, a very bland spoken word section and a grating strings sound hinder the impact of the song, causing cheesiness to be on the forefront. It doesn't help that the supposedly uplifting lyrics are just as careless: "This song is not for those who laugh and mock the name of Christ/…This song is for the ones who cry, 'Lord, we are battle-weary.'" These issues essentially run throughout the entire tracklist.
As perhaps the most prolific musical family in their corner of the industry, it's very clear that The Talleys have nailed down their sound by now. They seem most comfortable when playing piano ballads like "When The Answer Is No" and "We Are Witnesses," but there are far too many songs that fit this category for them all to come across as creatively interesting. That being said, when the group does decide to jump genres, such as with the big band swingin' "Joy" or the ukulele-driven "Grab Your Umbrella," they feel a bit too contrived and generic. The performances are still top-notch, but these sonic detours really don't add anything to the substance of the album.
My time with my collegiate group leaves me with a bit of a soft spot for this brand of music. Finest Hour definitely has its inspired moments: the recollection of Jesus' most important lessons on "That's What The Teacher Taught" causes the listener to truly reflect, and closer "Begin Again God" features a driving beat that is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it really feels like The Talleys have found the sound they are satisfied with, completely content to rest in repetition. Often times, the antidote for complacency is a fundamentally different approach; stepping outside of the genre a couple of times is a start, but I'd like to see more variety from them in future releases.- Review date: 3/26/18, written by Mason Haynie of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Horizon Records
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