Forgotten Albums: Kingdom Heirs – Forever Gold

The Kingdom Heirs have released numerous strong albums over their long career, especially since Arthur Rice joined up with the group in the mid to late 90s.  Albums like Anchored, The Journey Home, and True To The Call have found their place in the genre.  Forever Gold, however, seems to be largely forgotten.  It’s a shame, as this is a great album. It was the first mainline album to feature David Sutton as tenor, and the only mainline release to feature former Gold City member Steve Lacey as lead. Baritone Steve French and bass Eric Bennett round out the vocal lineup on the album.

The album starts of with a jazzy tinged song called “Makin’ A New Start”, that is a decidedly Gold City-esque tune that lets Steve Lacey and David Sutton step out a bit.  I’ve always been a huge Lacey fan, both with Gold City and the Kingdom Heirs.  He had an incredibly smooth voice that I miss hearing in SG.  There’s a very solid rendition of “Lord Do It Again” that again begs a GC comparison, as both quartets recorded this song at about the same time.  David Sutton does a great job on the lead on the chorus, and Eric Bennett, who had only been with the Kingdom Heirs for a couple years, was already displaying his adeptness at bass leads.  Lacey shines on a big ballad called “Let Freedom Ring.”  “Supernatural Man Who Can” is a bit of a gimmicky type lyric, but it’s solid enough.  One of the big highlights is the shimmering acappella “When Jesus Breaks The Morning.”  The harmonies are fantastic, as is the arrangement.  This was probably the smoothest blend the Kingdom Heirs have ever had.

The huge hit on this album was the Squire Parsons penned “I Go To The Rock Of Ages”.  The Hoppers also recorded a popular version of this song, but this one is my favorite.  It’s become a bit of a minor classic as many regional groups started singing the song.  In fact, a certain blogger may have played and sung this with his family a time or two, you never can tell.  :-) “He Had To Hold To Calvary” is another highlight of the recording, thought it is a bit long at 6:01, David Sutton’s vocal holds you captive the entire time.  Sutton has always been fantastic at tenor ballads, and this is one of the earliest examples.  It’s a terrific song, and a riveting performance by the group.  There’s a laid back version of “Love Will Roll The Clouds Away”, or at least it’s laid back compared to the Kingsmen’s versions of the song.  The recording ends with an acoustic flavored version of the CCM hit by Phillips, Craig, and Dean “I Want To Be Just Like You.”  Steve French does a great job with a touching lyric.  This song has much more meaning to me since I became a father, and with Father’s Day approaching, it would be a good song to listen to again.

This particular lineup of the Kingdom Heirs was fairly short lived, lasting about a year or so.  Arthur Rice succeeded Steve Lacey as the lead singer for the group, and the rest, as they say, is history.  BUT, to this blogger anyways, this recording still stands up as one of the best albums in the group’s catalog.  Pull it out and listen again, and prepare to be impressed.  This is another album that will make you say “I forgot how good this album is!”

Forgotten Albums: Ernie Haase & Signature Sound – Great Love

Ernie Haase & Signature Sound is one of the most polarizing groups in our industry today, but there’s no denying their immense popularity.  This year marks 10 years since the group hit the scene running, and they’ve had immense success, especially after they hooked up with Gaither.  They have released album after album to market success and critical acclaim, but one album seems to be forgotten in the group’s history, and I consider it to be one of their best: 2004’s Great Love.  This was their second major label release, the first to feature Roy Webb and Ryan Seaton with Haase, Doug Anderson, and Tim Duncan, and the last to be on the now defunct Cathedral Records.  While their following self titled album on Gaither’s label may have launched them to supergroup status, this album laid the groundwork for their meteoric rise.  The title track is a glistening Lari Goss masterpiece reminiscent of Friends IV with close, tight harmonies.  Goss’s epic arrangement of the Gaither classic “This Could Be The Dawning” found its way into the EHSS set list for quite a while, and for good reason, as did their version of the quartet standard “Will The Lord Be With Me.”  The latter tune made for a great stage song around 2 vintage microphones.  There is another great ballad toward the end of the disc called “When He Comes Again”, and another great classic quartet tune in “Down In My Soul.”  The real gem on this album, though, is a pop flavored ballad sung by Doug Anderson called “Even Now.”  Anderson’s vocal is flawless, and the harmonies that back him are fantastic.  Easily hidden gem worthy, this song alone makes the album worth obtaining.  If you’ve been a fan of EHSS from day one, you probably know how good this album is, but may have simply forgotten.  If you’re on the other side of the EHSS spectrum, give this album a chance, as it features some great singing, very good material, and excellent arranging.  Either way, Great Love is still a great listen.

Forgotten Albums: Won By One – Bold And Unashamed

Won By One started in the mid 1990s as a trio some time after Clayton Inman departed from the Kingdom Heirs.  The original trio was Inman singing lead, Greg Shockley singing tenor, and David Jenkins singing baritone.  After a few years and some decent success, including a Singing News #1 single (a remake of the Oak Ridge Boys’ classic “King Jesus”), the group added Bob Caldwell as bass singer and became a quartet.  While Caldwell went to the studio and cut bass vocals for the prior trio album, this was the first full fledged quartet album by the group, and it is a very good album.

The CD starts of with a couple of very strong mid-tempo tunes.  The first, called “When I Reached Up”, featured Caldwell right off the bat.  The second “Somewhere In Gloryland” was a radio single that fared fairly well to the best of my recollection.  Inman really shone on the verses.  The third track was a standout power ballad that Inman sang to perfection called “It Took A Lamb.”  This one is worthy of a Hidden Gem post, and I may just do that sometime.  The title track has neat Middle Eastern feel to the verses that are in a minor key that transitions to a major key and straight SG feel for the chorus.  It’s a unique, interesting standout tune.  They also cover “In Gloryland” that made it’s most famous appearance on the Singing Americans’ iconic Live and Alive album.  It’s almost note for note, except for the tag, and I actually prefer Won By One’s ending to the Singing Americans.  Having been released around the same time by Legacy Five, they also cut “I Stand Redeemed”, but did so as a bass solo for Bob Caldwell.  It works, and not in any small part due to Caldwell’s vocal talent.  It may not quite have quite the power or charisma of Cobb’s performance with L5, but it’s a very good rendition, and it’s neat to hear the difference in the song as a bass feature.  The album closes with “There But By”, a slow ballad that features some nice lyrics and smooth harmonies.

Won By One holds a bit of a special place with me, as they were the first pro group we ever hosted at our church.  We ended up booking them for several consecutive years, and always enjoyed our time with them.  They were always a solid group vocally that put on an enjoyable concert.  I consider Bold and Unashamed to be the pinnacle of their recording career.  It’s a great album that if you have a copy and haven’t listened in a while, it’s worth pulling back out and giving another spin.  You’ll be glad you did.

Forgotten Albums: Brian Free and Assurance – Doing This For You

Brian Free and Assurance is currently one of the hottest quartets going.  They’ve been in around for about 17 years now, but their history is unique in that it contains a parenthetical period.  There was a time from 1998 or so till 2001 when Brian disbanded the group and performed as a soloist while in seminary.  Released in 1998, Doing This For You was the last project of the pre-solo quartet era.  It featured Brian, Randy Crawford on lead, Jon McBroom on baritone, and Bob Caldwell on bass.

This is an interesting album in that it really didn’t have any mega chart hits, but it did produce several mid-level charting songs.  However, don’t let the lack of charting action fool you, this is a tremendous CD that was easily the best of the pre-solo quartet days.  The song begins and ends with two tremendous acappella pieces, opening with a lively “Heavenly Parade” and closing with a beautiful hymn medley.  Jon McBroom has an incredibly pleasing baritone voice, and his performance of the title track is not to be missed.  It definitely qualifies as “Hidden Gem” worthy.  Though it has been recorded by several other groups, the power ballad “Who Is This King?” finds its definitive version here, with an outstanding lead vocal from Crawford.  There’s some great uptempo stuff here two, with two big winners in “This Is Still My Father’s World” and the Michael English penned “Sign Me Up.”  Ernie Haase had the hit with the song, but I’ve always preferred this recording of “What A Difference A Day Makes.”  This version features some great power harmony from the quartet.

Quite possibly the strongest song on this album is the power tenor ballad, “So We Could Become Like Him.”  Brian Free has always been known for the high tenor ballads, but this one is definitely one of the best.  Brian turns in a masterful performance, and by the end of the song the harmony is soaring in the stratosphere.  If you’ve never heard this song, you’ve missed a real treat.  Great lyrics and a powerful performance highlight this track.

Luckily, BFA is good about having pretty much all of their previous recordings available.  If you don’t have this CD, pick it up the next time you see them, or order it from their website.  If you already have it, dig it out and stick it back in the CD player.  It’s an incredible CD that you’ll enjoy listening to again!

Forgotten Albums: Statesmen – O’ My Lord What A Time

One of the big stories of 1992 in the SG world was the reformation of the Statesmen with Johnny Cook, Biney English, Jake Hess, Bob Caldwell, and Hovie Lister.  The story of the genesis of the revival of the group was well publicized as coming out of the Homecoming video by Gaither.  There was a huge buildup to the release of the new group’s debut CD, Revival.

This album was released the next year, in 1993, to much less buildup.  In fact, Cook and English may have even departed in the time between the recording and release of the CD.  That being said, this is still a pretty enjoyable disc.  The CD starts with the best version of the Nancy Harmon classic “Blood Bought Church” I’ve heard, and follows it up with a strong version of “What A Lovely Name” featuring Cook reliving his Goodman days.  There is an early versions of a song that would become more popular in subsequent years, namely “Forgiven Again” (EHSS).  Biney English is featured on the Statesmen cut, and while still a ballad, it’s quite different from the more widely known EHSS version.  The title track is a nice balance between the very stripped down version released by Perfect Heart on their Command Performance album around the same time, and the uber-slick version recorded by the Gaither Vocal Band a few years later.  Cook does well with it, and though his voice shows his age, it’s nice to hear Hovie singing on it as well.

“Just A Little While” and Hess’ standard “Faith Unlocks The Door” are found in more than credible versions, with Caldwell turning a very nice performance on the former, and the disc ends with a very pretty acoustic ballad called “More Of You.”  This later album sees Jake Hess serving less as the group’s billed lead singer, and fitting much more comfortably into a baritone role with the higher ranges of English and Cook above him.  Overall, this was a much more versatile sound for the group that played better to their respective strengths.  Cook still had the chops to tackle a few nice tenor notes with English stacked right underneath him.  If you have a copy of this album, pull it back out.  If not, see if you can find a copy somewhere.  It’s an intriguing piece of history as it is Jake Hess’s last recording as a member of the Statesmen.  Above all else, it’s just a good solid CD!

Forgotten Albums: Imperials – Gospel’s Alive And Well

These days, if you ask most people about the Imperials, they will immediately think of either the Terry Blackwood/Sherman Andrus lineup or the Russ Taff-Paul Smith/David Will era of the group.  However, I’ve always considered the lineup that preceded Terry and Sherman by a couple years as their best.  That group featured Jim Murray on tenor, Terry Blackwood on lead, Roger Wiles on baritone, Armond Morales on bass, and Joe Moscheo at the piano and serving as the group’s MC.

This album is a live album featuring the aforementioned iteration of the Imperials from 1970.  The very first song on the album, the quartet classic “First Day In Heaven”, showcases what an incredibly smooth blend the group possessed and how well the four voices fit with each other.  It’s amazingly difficult to distinguish between Terry Blackwood and Roger Wiles, they nearly sound like the same voice overdubbed.  It’s interesting to hear “The Old Rugged Cross Made The Difference” being introduced as “a new song”, and their version, while minus the vocal acrobatics of the Gaither Vocal Band’s later take, is incredible.  Harmony drenched in more harmony can be found in “Let There Be Peace On Earth”, “If That Isn’t Love” (with an arrangement like you’ve never heard before), “Sheltered In The Arms Of God”, and the album closing “Sweet Sweet Spirit.”  The group covers one of their recent hits, “God Speaking To You”, which was actually pulled from a Broadway play, if I’m not mistaken.  That’s not the only cut with a secular source, which is interesting since at this time the Imperials were still riding the Southern Gospel circuit.  If you’ve never heard Jim Murray tackle “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, you’ve missed out.  He gives a great performance on this album.

Making its first appearance on this album is the Joe Moscheo led “Oh Happy Day”, but in this incarnation it is the second song of a 2-song medley, and is immediately preceded by a stunning performance of “When We All Get Together With The Lord.”  This song is Exhibit A in my case that these four voices had the single most impressive blend that we’ve ever seen in Southern Gospel music, and the harmonies are impeccable.

When the question makes its rounds every once in a while about the all time greatest live albums, I always make sure to posit this album as belonging near the top of the list.  There isn’t even an average song on the album, the singing is without fault, the arrangements, while dated 41 years after the fact, were incredibly progressive for the time, the blend flawless, and Joe Moscheo is easily the most underrated and forgotten MC in SG history.  His self-deprecating, witty humor, and yet his ability to exude sincerity and humbleness when the concert turns more serious is amazing to behold.  If you’ve got a copy of this album, pull it out and spin it up.  If you don’t, this is one worth scouring flea markets, antique stores, and eBay to find.

Forgotten Albums: Kingsmen – Not Quite As Big, But Just As Live Again

Recorded at Gold City’s Homecoming celebration and released in 2000 as a table project is quite possibly the best live album most SG fans have never heard.  Loosely a re-creation of the album that put the Kingsmen on the map, Not Quite As Big, But Just As Live Again (or Big & Live 2 for short) is an incredible concert featuring Jerry Martin, Bryan Hutson, Parker Jonathan, Ray Reese, and Andrew Ishee.

The songs largely come straight from the original Big & Live, minus “The Apple Tree Song” and adding “Just As The Son Went Down” and “Wonderful Time In Heaven.”  The same raw emotion that drove the Kingsmen’s great live albums from the 70s and 80s exists here as well.  Jim Hamill makes an appearance to sing “Love Lifted Me” (and featuring Jerry Martin hitting a glass shattering Ab above high C) and “I’d Rather Be An Old Time Christian.”  Martin absolutely sings the fire out of “Look For Me At Jesus’ Feet” and “Glory Road” as well.  Bryan Hutson’s lead vocal absolutely smokes on “Wonderful Time In Heaven.”  Ray Reese sings “So High” at warp speed.  “Look For Me” also features some vocals from bass guitarist Jason Selph as well.

If you’re a fan of good, straight ahead quartet singing, and especially a fan of the Kingsmen’s high energy live albums, you need to scour Amazon, Ebay, or any place you can think of to find a copy of this album.  It’s simply awesome.

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