Thursday, January 18, 2007

Texas harmony, Gatlin style

The mandolin kicks in. The drums go to work. The harmony hits you in layers, wave after wave, and the hair stands up on the back of your neck.

The voices blend together in the most delicious way you’ve ever heard. “She’s a broken lady,” they sing, “waiting to be mended.”

You can’t beat family harmony — particularly when it’s out of the mouths of Gatlins.

Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers have long been among the most talented vocalists in country music. From the Grammy Award-winning “Broken Lady” to the controversial “Midnight Choir (Mogen David),” the Brothers produced some of the most professional recordings ever to emanate from Music City in the 1970s and 1980s.

Many of those hits can be found on this live album, “Live at Billy Bob’s Texas.” The Brothers were the first act to hit Billy Bob’s stage in 1981, and they seem happy to be back in this 2004 concert.

Gatlin’s range may have dropped a notch since his mid-70s heyday, but the harmony remains untouched, a living reminder of what real music used to be. The Brothers shine again on “I’ve Done Enough Dyin’ Today,” “All the Gold in California” and the hauntingly beautiful “Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall.”

Larry Gatlin was one of the first singers involved with Southern Gospel guru Bill Gaither’s “Homecoming” projects, appearing on the very first video 15 years ago. And the gospel recordings included here are some of the best tracks on the disc, including “Swing Down Sweet Chariot” and Gatlin’s own “Help Me.”

And if the live version of “Broken Lady” doesn’t quite capture the magic of the original recording, well, what could? That second chorus remains the best 40 seconds of any country music record.

If you are a longtime Gatlin fan, “Live At Billy Bob’s Texas” is a must own. If you’ve never treated yourself to the Gatlin family harmony, run, don't walk, to your nearest CD store.

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