What A Wonderful Savior Is He (Ray Harper)

Ray Harper
What A Wonderful Savior Is He

It really helps to have friends. Ray Harper ably handles all the lead vocals on this solo effort, in addition to playing guitar and fiddle. Harper is a competent singer, not particularly memorable, but with a superb supporting cast like Russell Moore, Jim Mills and Wayne Benson, it would be hard to go astray.

The vocal blend is excellent, with four delightful cuts featuring Moore's distinctive harmony vocals. I'm Going Home is one of the highlights, featuring Moore on a terrific high baritone harmony. The arrangement on Precious Moments shows the strong Doyle Lawson influence we'd expect from alumni like Mills and Moore. Often, there isn't a lot of time for guest musicians to learn anything unusual, which can result in a predictable and ordinary sound. But throughout this recording, the hard work and inventiveness that Harper and company have put in keep the songs fresh and interesting.

Gospel music tends to emphasize the vocals, so you don't want a lot of overly-flashy breaks and backup cluttering things up. These pickers know their chops, but they also understand their place. Benson's mandolin work is outstanding throughout. David Johnson supplies some interesting dobro breaks and backup, and plays the bass, too. Charlie Cobble handles the banjo chores well, though the tone is a bit thin in spots. Although not prominently featured on this recording, Harper plays some especially nice fiddle in There's A Highway. The production, for the most part, keeps the listener's attention focused on the vocals. This is as it should be.

There are a couple of songs where the lead vocal sounds different from the rest of the recording - Rock Of My Soul almost doesn't sound like Harper singing, though the credits don't mention anyone else on lead vocals. Maybe a few of these cuts were recorded at a different time, but there's a noticeable difference a couple of numbers.

Overall, this is a fine effort. The fast tunes are quick, not in-your-face hard-driving. This lends to an overall laid-back feel to the whole recording. The production work is good, the presentation well executed and, above all, the music is excellent. Ray Harper and friends have given us something worth listening to.

(Mark Five Records, P. O. Box 2886, Hendersonville, TN 37077-2886)
Published in Bluegrass Unlimited, September 1994. Used with permission.