Judge Bill Gibron says this gospel group is best enjoyed with drawn butter and lemon wedges.
Shout to the Lord!
While it seems simple to ridicule an easy target for mockery (both The Simpsons and South Park have done a jaundiced job on it), Christian rock and gospel music are massively popular aspects of the entertainment industry. From the exciting sounds of a Bible thumping choir to the less than conventional cacophony of religious rap or fundamentalist ska, the genre has exploded to cover all manner of musical types. Naturally, this has lead to a schism amongst the faithful. While many traditionalists would argue that taking the word of God and placing it into any musical setting, including rock and roll, is downright sacrilegious, there are others who feel any manner in which Jesus is praised upholds the Savior's teachings and tenets.
The debate over contemporary gospel music is far more complicated. For many, anything outside the spirituals and standards that the field is known for is a profane path toward inequity. And then there are those who feel the only way the movement can grow and expand is by allowing divergent voices with new and novel approaches to songwriting win over the rest of the public. Somewhere between the time-honored and the up-to-date is the incredible Crabb Family. For many years, an act comprised of father Gerald, mother Kathy, and siblings Jason, Kelly, Aaron, Adam, and Terah toured the country spreading their simple, folksy music (almost all of which was written by Dad) to any and all who would listen. The results have been, for want of a better word, phenomenal.
Playing to an annual attendance of almost 800,000 followers, breaking all manner of records on the Christian charts (they've scored 14 #1 songs and eight additional Top 20 hits) and consistently cited as one of the guiding lights of an ever expanding industry, The Crabbs are superstars in a business blanketed with stellar performers. In 2002, mom and dad passed the preaching torch on to the children, and Kelly's husband Mike Bowling joined the group. Today, they play arenas around the world, spreading the Good News in an amazing musical manner. Culled from a 2002 performance at the LJVM Coliseum in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the DVD of The Crabb Family: # 1 Hits Live delivers just that—all 14 of the groups amazing chart toppers in one sensational 60 minute celebration of faith. In case you are unaware of these miraculous, moving songs, here is a rundown of the show's set list:
• "That's No Mountain" from the 2001 album Living
Out the Dream
Anyone, from the most closed minded atheist to the most openhearted zealot, will find it difficult to fault the Crabb Family and their amazing musical talent on this fine concert DVD. Oh sure, the hypercritical could point out that papa Gerald's lyrics are just a tad too awkward to be truly timeless (he misses rhymes, tosses unusual cadences together, and occasionally forgets the exact sentiment he is trying to express within a single verse) and that the overall sound recalls the most basic, pleasant principles of old gospel and new country. But that would be beside the point. Filled with an infectious joy that comes cascading off the screen and out of the speakers in waves of wonder, this remarkable, moving tribute by one act to the faith that drives their spirit succeeds where so many other evangelical performances (by the likes of, say, Carman or Michael W. Smith) seem forced, or even forgetful of their beliefs. The Crabb Family are there to bear witness in front of the crowd, to preach and teach to them in music that lifts both the heart and the soul.
Indeed, this is not meant to be music that challenges or changes the course of Christianity. It is meant to be the essence of God's grace springing forth, a celebration of Christ and all that He means to the Crabbs and their followers. The reactions from the audience are honest and pure. When lead singer Jason steps up to deliver a bravado performance on emotional workouts like "Please Come Down to Me" or "Through the Fire," the crowd cries with expressions of conviction that are very strong. You can feel yourself getting caught up in the charisma, understanding sincerely why people are motivated to testify and give their life up to the Lord after spending an hour with this astonishing musical family.
Naturally, Gerald Crabb must be credited for finding that proper balance between old time religion and newfound faith, meshing standard gospel strains with some contemporary country and new rock revisionism to create an entertainment equilibrium that is instantly infectious and memorable. It is easy to see why this act is so popular and why their recordings have produced so many #1 hits. While the verbal elements of each song may be somewhat suspect, the chorus/verse variables are melodious and masterful. As performers, the Crabbs really know how to turn on the drama, pumping each song full of sentiment and spectacle until the entire arena is literally reeling from their revelry. With harmonies as tight as humanly possible and a never-ending source of sonic wonders to draw on, it's a shame this show doesn't last longer. Even Mark Bowling shines in his two solo spots, though he's no match for the Crabbs' formidable chops.
Believe in God or call all organized religion quackery, but good music, performed well, is a gift in and of itself. The Crabbs understand this better than most contemporary Christian acts. Instead of sticking to the tried and true, they expand their instrumentation, involving harmonica, mandolin, and pedal steel guitar to give their sounds a certain timeless naturalism. The voices all sound authentic without a bit of affectation, and the resulting combination of styles and skills is like an aural revival whenever they merge their musical might. For some, there will be no reason to spend one minute, let alone an hour, with a group whose main function is to sing the Gospel of Christ. But if you like your songs on the decidedly sentimental side, if you enjoy the old fashioned fun of a foot stomping sing along, or need to get reacquainted with your spiritual roots, you could do a lot worse than The Crabb Family: #1 Hits Live. This is one of the best music DVDs, Christian or otherwise, to be released in a long time.
Technically, Eagle Eye Media does the Family fabulously proud by providing a stellar audio and video package. Presented in pristine video to digital clarity, the 1.33:1 full screen image is amazingly bright and colorful. While there is nothing flash about the Crabbs' performance, the dead on direction by David Brainard captures all the elements of the show, both the flamboyant and the personal, with style and grace. This makes the concert a near perfect visual experience, since we never miss a moment of the magic, from either an artistic or image-mastering facet.
The sonic situation is even better. While there is an option for Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, the mind-blowing 5.1 Extrapolated experience is the way to go here. The concert atmosphere is electric, with crowd and Crabb mixing magnificently together to reach a kind of pinnacle of overall immersion that few titles can ever claim. You will experience the show the way the audience did that night, in superb sound and with channel challenging directional elements in abundance. It's just too bad that Eagle Eye didn't include some bonus material. Extras would have put this DVD package over the top. As it stands, the stellar sound and vision speak for themselves.
You don't have to be born again, or saved to appreciate what the Crabb Family does on #1 Hits Live. An admiration of fine musicianship is all that's required. And if you feel a little stirring in your soul, all the better. This is an affecting and affirming concert performance, proving what so many already know: The Crabb Family are the new voice of Contemporary Gospel music. And what a sweet, sweet sound their vocalizing makes.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Eye Media
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