Album Review

First Call

By Kevin Bailey

With three of the greatest vocal talents in Christian music (or any other music for that matter) combining to create some of the most exquisite vocal arrangements and happening grooves available, First Call has proven themselves capable, over the past six years, of handling just about any musical style. The styles range from the inspirational ballad style of "Undivided," off the album of the same name, to the Motown soul of "Back to His Heart," from Something Takes Over, to the vocal jazz-swing a la Manhattan Transfer on the title cut of Something Takes Over, to the dance-pop of "Sweet Love" on God is Good, plus a veritable cornucopia of other styles most groups are either afraid of or lack the talent to tackle.

All bias aside, however, we must take Human Song for what it is – a wonderfully crafted album coupling the best elements of the past three albums with enough fresh surprises to allow First Call to maintain their status as a growing, progressive vocal group. This is the group's first album with Marabeth Jordan, who replaced Melody Tunny about two-and-a-half years ago. The fact that she has toured and sung with Marty McCall and Bonnie Keen for two years is largely responsible for the group's tight, polished sound.

The first song and title track on Human Song serves to place us immediately in familiar territory. This is standard First Call stuff, from the ear-catching a cappella intro, through the mile-a-minute phrasing on the bridge, to the catchy melody of the chorus. This song also sets forth the lyrical spirit of the album, that we are created as human beings and instead of denying that fact, we should celebrate our humanity and offer it to God for His glory.

Probably the most pleasant surprise on Human Song is "Ring Them Bells, penned by Bob Dylan. (Yes, Bob Dylan.) This poignant call to action, with its slightly obscure lyrics, gives Bonnie and Marabeth a great vehicle with which to display their incredible pipes. And that choir! I'm a a sucker for a pop choral anthem, and First Call has mastered them. (Remember "Parable of the River"?) This song, besides being musically superb, reminds Christians that there is too much to be done in the world – lost sheep to be found, justice and mercy to be shown – for us to be sleeping. ("Oh the shepherd is asleep/Where the willows weep/ And the mountains are filled/With lost sheep."

I have come to look forward to the last cut on a new First Call album. With all their offerings throughout the rest of the package, they typically save the big punches for last. "Broken Places" is no exception. What at first appears to be another vocal tour-de-force for Ms. Keen quickly becomes an incredibly soulful and heartfelt vocal exchange between all three members of First Call. Written by Bonnie, Darrell Brown and Tori Taff, this song stands out as the most personal on Human Song. In it, Bonnie shares the supernatural comfort God gives His children through His Holy Spirit, a comfort that is greater than our guilt and capable of replacing our tears with His peace.

I know the broken places,

I've grown strong in everyone.

Sown in the empty spaces,

A seed of work left to be done.

Each wound my heart embraces,

Becomes a cry that God has won.

Lyrics of such vulnerable honesty will no doubt touch and bless many listeners, as will every other finely crafted song on this tribute to God's wonderful gift to humanity – our humanity.