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There's an undeniable chemistry that occurs when great voices meet timeless songs. This music commands you to listen, touching your very core. Avalon has always been associated with creating such memorable music, but never has the award-winning foursome sounded more compelling than on Faith. Avalon’s eighth studio album was literally a lifetime in the making. The record’s performances are buoyed by countless hours belting these songs in church pews during their youth as well as by maturity and a deep appreciation that comes from experiencing God’s powerful grace. Jody McBrayer, Melissa Greene and Janna and Greg Long deliver such classics as “Holy Holy Holy,” “It Is Well,” “Amazing Grace” and “I’ll Fly Away” with an exuberance that make them sound brand new.
“Three of us grew up in preachers’ homes,” says Greg of himself, Janna and Jody. “We’ve been singing hymns since we were kids. It’s been a part of our upbringing. We feel like these songs are a part of history. Like ‘Holy, Holy, Holy,’ how many churches in countries all over the world have sung that song?”
Though these hymns have been sung for years, there’s something special about hearing them with the “Avalon” treatment. After all, the Sparrow Records group is synonymous with vocal excellence and integrity. They’ve sold more than three million albums, garnered the Group of the Year accolade three consecutive years from CCM Magazine readers and won numerous Dove Awards, including New Artist of the Year in 1998, as well as an American Music Award. Additionally, Avalon has scored 20 number one singles and performed before thousands on coast-to-coast tours.
However, it has all been leading to this moment in the group’s career. Jody says they all felt compelled to share these hymns with their audience. “You have to learn about your foundation,” he says. “You have to learn about your past and what your faith is built on before you can go out to a world that’s different and teach the gospel. Hymns carry with them not only solid theology but they were also the first songs about grace, faith, and hope. You learn those songs and recognize that people for centuries have been struggling with the same questions.”
Melissa grew up in church, but the music that dominated her services was contemporary worship. So recording Faith was her opportunity to connect with the hymns in a personal way. “I did not know a lot of the hymns,” says Melissa. “So learning the words and knowing what these songs were really saying made me fall in love with them. I am eager to bring these songs to others who, like me, were unfamiliar with them.”
Sometimes it’s in the most familiar of settings that an artist finds confidence to stretch creatively and try new things. Thus in recording the classic hymns they’d grown up singing, Avalon felt free to experiment with some different sounds.
“This is an eclectic record,” states Greg. “The styles on it are not all the same. ‘Amazing Grace’ turned out to have an R&B feel. With ‘I’ll Fly Away,’ we all just got on microphones and sang it down. We’ve never actually been in-studio while the band is recording tracks. On ‘I’ll Fly Away,’ we had the whole band playing, and we arranged as we went. So it was more of a creative thing than we’ve ever done.”
On Faith, Avalon once again worked with famed producer Brown Bannister. “You know the project is going to be amazing because he’s so gifted,” says Janna. “And we feel so comfortable with him. He has an ability to pull out the best in each of us vocally and convey the messages of the songs.”
God’s amazing grace, the gift of peace and promise of heaven are just a few recurring themes celebrated in such timeless treasures as “Blessed Assurance,” “It is Well,” “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and “How Great Thou Art.”
Janna cites “Great is Thy Faithfulness” as one of her favorite cuts on Faith. “Melissa and I sang it together. It turned into a nice duet which we‘ve never really done in 11 years of making music,” she says. “I’ve said several times that this song sums up the way God has been in my life. ‘Faithful’ is one adjective I love to use in describing God because he is so big even when we’re not.”
Jody says he’s always had a fondness for “It Is Well.” “I didn’t know the story behind it until about 10 years ago,” he says. “A man lost his two daughters in a shipwreck and sailed to the site where the ship went down. He wrote this song basically saying: ‘God is in control. I do not understand why this happened, it’s heart breaking, but it is well with my soul.’ I not only look up to the person who wrote it and the giant of faith he was, but I also love the fact that God comforts us in our loss.”
In recording “How Great Thou Art,” Avalon says the goal was to give it a U2-type flavor. “I wanted it to sound like the story,” Greg says. “I wrote the story out in the liner notes. When you listen to it, I want you to be able to read the story and listen to the song.”
Another highlight is “Total Praise,” which has become a favorite at Avalon’s live shows. “Melissa brought it to the Avalon table,” says Greg. “We’ve been doing that since the tour with Mark Schultz.”
“It’s sort of like the new ‘Doxology,’” Janna says of the song they often use to close shows.
Faith also includes an amazing bonus track titled “Freedom.” “It’s really a tribute,” says Greg. “It’s a thank you to men and women in the military who risk everything for freedom. Not only does it pay tribute to them, but it also gives thanks to their families, parents, husbands, wives, and children.”
These are good times for the members of Avalon. In the past few years, they’ve all become parents and have learned how to balance commitment to their growing families with their commitment to music ministry.
“Our personal lives are meshing with our professional lives,” says Jody. “We’ve bought a bus, and we bring the kids on the road. We want to keep doing this for as long as God will give us the grace. We felt that maybe it was just time for us to fold up and quit several years ago when we’d gone through some different circumstances, but God said ‘No, I’m not done yet.’”