By Walter Tunis “I believe we’re in the right place,” remarked tenor singer Bobbye Sherrell at the midway point of the Fairfield Four’s regal program of a capella gospel last night at Willie’s Locally Known.
On a number of fronts, Sherrell’s estimation of the evening hit the bullseye. For starters, the singing and sermonizing that surrounded this largely traditional set of hymns and spirituals made for inviting sanctuary from the storms that tore through Lexington throughout the evening. Such a setting wasn’t lost on baritone singer Larrice Byrd, Sr., who couldn’t help but reference the downpour outside before launching into the joyous ensemble testimony of Noah.
There was also the matter of the setting. The vocal quartet’s last Lexington shows were decade-old appearances at Rupp Arena and the Kentucky Theatre. The intimacy afforded this performance, especially tenor singer Levert Allison’s churchy audience interaction during Four and Twenty Elders and the booming bass singing of Joe Thompson at the onset of That’s Enough seemed to delight the audience, which awarded the 90 minute set with lasting, attentive quiet. The Fairfield singers seemed equally pleased with the venue, too – even to the point of sending an “amen” to the kitchen staff at Willie’s.
Then again, you almost sensed that any place was the right place for the Fairfield Four. The group’s collective performance enthusiasm seemed as jubilant and sincere as its singing. From the show-opening harmonies of Today, all four vocalists exuded a level of honest, unrelenting cheer. Sure, obvious devotion to the spiritual cast of the music fueled much of that. But the group didn’t overplay that aspect of their repertoire. The singers weren’t out to convert anybody. But when they delivered an exuberant Oh,Rock My Soul, you couldn’t help but be moved by the conviction and celebration of their singing, even if you weren’t sitting in the same parish, so to speak, when it came to what the songs said.
The performance was also as rootsy as it was righteous. You could regularly detect source material within the vocals on songs like the title tune from Fairfield’s 1992 album Standing in the Safety Zone that suggested such primal pop genres as doo-wop.
Mostly though, the show boiled down to a musical communion between four friends. The legacy of their group may be massive (dating back to 1921, in fact). But last night, they summoned spirits through the most lasting, natural and convincing musical device of all – the human voice.