‘The American Face’ speaks to today’s world

Lily Isaacs talks about the opportunities America offered her family, which immigrated from Europe following World War II, before The Isaacs sing the title song from their latest album ‘The American Face’ at Coffmania in Danville, Ky., on Aug. 28.

The Isaacs’ latest album uses familiar covers, original works to bring positive message in troubled times

By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com

(Second of two parts. Previously, the Isaacs talked about their upcoming induction into the Grand Ole Opry.)

It only takes one listen to The Isaacs’ new album to know something is just different.

The vocals on “The American Face” are mesmerizing, as usual. The instrumentation is as good as it gets, which is no surprise, either.

But this project is unlike anything The Isaacs have released.

So when we sat down to talk with The Isaacs before they took the stage at Danville Church of God on August 28, the obvious question was, “Have you heard that comment before?”

Lily Isaacs broke into a big smile. “We have,” she said.

“The American Face” is not your traditional gospel album. The selections aren’t dominated by songs one would normally hear at an all-day-singing-and-dinner-on-the-ground. There are no old hymns such as “It Is Well With My Soul” or “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” that have long been associated with The Isaacs.

But the message of The Isaacs’ latest album, which was released on Aug. 13, is very powerful for the times. It might be described as an amazingly inclusive project that delivers the message of the gospel to those who would not be likely to hear it in a church setting. It’s very effective.

And it might not be as different as first perceptions might lead one to believe.

“Every album we have done, we have had some ‘secular’ songs,” Lily said.

Indeed. Among their most familiar covers have been The Browns’ “The Three Bells” and The Judds’ “Grandpa, Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days.” They might not be traditional gospel, but convey a positive message that needs to be told.

“We have always done those types of songs, but never a whole album with those types of songs,” Lily explains.

The 12-song album includes six original works, including the title cut, which was written by Sonya Isaacs Yeary and her husband, Jimmy Yeary, in 2014. There are also six covers that The Isaacs believe will bring in new listeners to hear the gospel.

“We are excited about (the new album),” Lily Isaacs said. “We have been blessed over the last couple of years to pick up a lot of performing arts centers, civic centers and festivals where the average church-goers might not go, so we decided we would do this album to kind of have people have some songs they are familiar with.”

Becky Isaacs Bowman sings at Coffmania on Aug. 28.

It’s all about getting a positive message out to the masses. The album was actually recorded in 2019 and was scheduled for release last year but with the nation battling the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the decision was made to delay the release. 

“We are always trying to outdo the songs from our last record,” Becky Isaacs Bowman said. “We want to grow and expand our boundaries.We started talking about doing this record and how it was going to land. We really feel like the six familiar songs we pulled for this record would immediately identify with any genre, you know, people from the 60s who remember the hippie and 50s-styles of music. But the millennials and younger generations have reconnected with those songs of the 60s and 70s.”

One of the new album cuts is a cover of The Byrds’ 1965 classic, “Turn, Turn, Turn” which draws heavily from Ecclesiastes 3. 

Another is Chicago’s “You’re The Inspiration” from 1984. “What a great song!” Lily Isaacs said. “You can be talking about anybody. You’re my inspiration. It is a song of honor. It could be your spouse, your friend, your preacher, whoever.”

But the song that might turn the most heads is The Beatles’ 1965 hit, “We Can Work it Out.”

Lily chuckled when asked about a gospel group recording the Fab Four.

“When we got together to do this album, we all decided we would pitch our own songs,” she said. “We make a list of 10 or 15 of our favorite songs, the four of us did. So whoever gets the most votes, we would go with it. We are a democracy that way. 

“So, of course, I was going to ask for a Beatles song. I was a Beatle-maniac when I was a kid living through the 60s. Everyone in my class loved The Beatles. I would have a crush on John Lennon one week, then Paul McCartney.”

And on August 15, 1965, Lily was in New York’s Shea Stadium for the legendary Beatles concert. Less than three months later, the Beatles recorded the song that is now part of The American Face album.

We can work it out

We can work it out

Life is very short and there’ no time

For fussing and fighting, my friend.

— John Lennon and Paul McCartney, © Sony ATV Music Publishing

“It’s a great song because it is talking about what we need to do today,” Lily continued. “Even in 2019, I was thinking we have got to work this out.”

The Isaacs sang “We Can Work It Out” at Coffmania and soon had several hundred people singing with them. “We have been doing it every night,” Lily said. “We did it at The Opry and people were singing along with it. And they love it. … When we sing these songs in church, people are singing along.”

The message is simply about life. And those classic covers lead to an opportunity to share the gospel in song.

Sonya Isaacs Yeary plays mandolin at Coffmania in Danville, Ky. (All photos by John Herndon.)

“Songs like The Byrds with ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ have lyrics that are everlasting, and The Beatles’ ‘We Can Work It Out’ have messages that have completely stood the test of time,” Becky added.

But the title cut is fresh and reflects The Isaacs’ belief in the opportunities America affords. “The American Face pays tribute to great song lyrics, great speeches and quotes of the past and zeroes in on the United word in the name of our country. 

Lily Isaacs’ story is well known to her fans: Her parents were survivors of the Jewish Holocaust and immigrated to America when she was a small child. Her children are the first generation in her family to be born in America. Together, Lily and her children travel the nation, extolling the virtues of America and a rock-solid faith in God.

The compelling video of “The American Face” captures The Isaacs taking in the vastness and diversity of the nation culminating with scenes in downtown Nashville. The imagery of coming together is powerful.

It’s the overarching message throughout the new album: Coming together. Love people. Love America. Be a Christian light in all things.

“We have always recorded songs on our albums that are not considered gospel songs but they have positive messages,” Sonya Isaacs Yeary said. “Songs like ‘Heroes’ which talks about caregivers. They are life stories and life songs, songs I love. This is the first time we have done a whole album which was a collection of those types of songs. It was fun to be able to pick our favorite cover songs, songs that we grew up listening to and that impacted our musical tastes.

Ben Isaacs stays busy with his work in The Isaacs and as one of Nashville’s top producers.

“While it’s not what we would consider a gospel record, it is a very positive record of good messages and hopeful messages…. We sing at a lot of places where the crowd is really not familiar with gospel music so we finally did some songs that will kind of break the ice with them and get them comfortable with us so when we do songs they are not familiar with, they will listen and listen to the gospel message.”

What’s up with Ben Isaacs?

Ben Isaacs has become one of Nashville’s finest producers in addition to his work with The Isaacs. He’s been busy with multiple artists.

“I have been producing a lot of records out of the studio and have for the last several years,” he said. “I produce a lot of records that you see at Cracker Barrel.”

And he’s been busy with a quartet that released it’s first album last year. Fortune, Walker, Rogers and Isaacs features Jimmy Fortune, who rose to fame as a member of the Statler Brothers, Bradley Walker, a familiar face from The Joey & Rory Show, bluegrass great Mike Rogers and Ben Isaacs. Their first album, a gospel project called “Brotherly Love,” was released with critical acclaim last September.

Ben Isaacs produced the album. 

“(The quartet) is a very big thing for me this year,” he said.

Ben says he’s also producing a new album for gospel singer Tim Menzies and an inspirational album from Dennis Quaid. 

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