For the one year I was in high school band, Mark Best was the jovial instructor and a good time was had by all. But then I took his Music Theory class, a painful experience where advanced college level results were demanded from glossy-eyed high school students. For the faint of heart, I won't go into the details of what exactly what has expected of us or the stringent level of perfection by which our fledgling projects were graded.
If you haven't guessed by now, Mark Best is a member of Tribute, the house praise band of New Haven United Methodist Church. While I harbor no bitterness or anger toward Mr. Best (honest injun!), it would be disingenuous of me to grade, er, review this latest album by anything other than the same rigorous standard to which he held his class. Plus I love the irony. Let's begin, shall we?
Tribute is a six-piece band (plus two sound men) consisting of Barry Benson (vocals), Doug Norris (guitar/vocals), Jim Courtney (keyboard/vocals), Mark Best (guiboard/vocals), Dave Bangert (guitar/vocals) and Frank Kline (drums). Those familiar with frequencies below 150Hz will notice that no bass player is listed in the credits… I'll try not to take that personally. Actually, the web site (www.tribute.ws) attributes bass to Mark Best and although keyboard bass does appear on quite a few songs, uncredited electric bass is present as well. Speaking of things missing, although the artwork looks professional and appropriately glossy (see enticing photo above), the track listing on the back of the CD mysteriously omits track number seven and no one is credited for the slick layout.
But enough nitpicking… it's all about the music, right? Sing His Praises is Tribute's second album. While their first album, Share The Light, was comprised of original songs, Sing His Praises jumps on the current contemporary Christian bandwagon by recording a collection of praise songs… twenty of 'em! If your church has a contemporary service, you're sure to recognize some of the titles on this disc, titles such as "Sing His Praises", a funky chorus that Tribute opens with punchy synth bass and incorporates wah-wah guitar with wigged out vocal effects. "I Walk By Faith" is an upbeat rocker with some pleasantly distorted guitar and an interesting synth line buried in the mix. In addition to lots of tasty guitar, the fun keyboard horns that accompany the peppy "Come Into This House" are just one example of the nice keyboard work found on many tracks. While Tribute can rock a bit, their real strength is shown on such tracks like "That's Why We Praise Him" and "Shine Jesus Shine", tracks that layer rich four-part "gospel quartet" vocal harmonies over the guitars and drums. Vocal fans will be pleased to learn that these thick harmonies are present in copious amounts.
The weakness of the album is that it really isn't much different than a live recording of a church worship service. With twenty songs, even the normally amazing Monastic Chambers wasn't able to stretch the limited resources thin enough to keep this project from sounding like a live demo. Still, with their unique blend of four-part vocal harmonies and driving guitars, this rock gospel quartet hits more than it misses. I give Sing His Praises a solid B.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, February 2002.