Hidden Gems: All Star Quartets – “His Eye Is On The Sparrow”

Michael Booth has previously joked when accepting the Favorite Tenor award at the Singing News Fan Awards that you should have to at least sing high enough to be the lead vocalist for Brian Free and Assurance to win the Tenor award.  While the joke gets a good laugh, Michael is not too far from the truth.  Let’s go back a few years to the All Star Quartets: Hymns album released by Daywind circa 2002.  “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” is the final song on the disc, and features a vocal lineup of Dan Clark (Nelons), bass; Craig Singletary (BFA), baritone; Scott Mills (Southern Brothers), lead; and Bill Shivers (BFA), tenor.  Yes, you read that right.

The song has a bit of a mellow soul feel.  Craig Singletary starts off the song with the first half of the first verse as a solo.  The last half is done by Scott Mills, who has a bit more of a soulful touch than what Singletary does that gives the verse a some variety.  The quartet sings the chorus with Mills carrying the melody and a nice smooth blend.  Singletary takes the first part of the second verse again.  Shivers then takes last half of the second verse and absolutely kills it.  His range on the last “he watches me” of the verse is absolutely breathtaking.  The quartet comes back in to repeat the chorus with Mills taking the melody again.  The song tags with a nice power block ending.

Some of these combinations on the All Star Quartets albums worked better than others.  Chalk this one up to one that worked extremely well.  It’s also a nice showcase of Bill Shivers’ range and a good example of why he is one of the best singers in SG today.  He’s a fantastic lead, but could also make a great tenor as well!  Pull this disc out and give it a listen again, you’ll be glad you did!

Hidden Gems: Cathedrals – “Evergreen”

While the Cathedrals remain one of SG’s most popular and enduring groups, even now some 14 years after their retirement, there remains a lot of the group’s catalog that is fairly undiscovered by most fans of this music, especially in the pre-Danny Funderburk years.  This song comes from their 1981 album Colors Of His Love featuring Kirk Talley, Glen Payne, Mark Trammell, George Younce, and Roger Bennett.

This mellow sounding ballad starts with some swirling strings that put the listener in mind of wind whirling through the evergreen trees to which the title of the song refers.  It’s an interesting lyric that refers to evergreen trees standing through the storms that come up and blow.  The chorus is a prayer for God to make the believer as strong as the evergreen that stands in the forest.  It’s a very well crafted lyric that is accecntuated with some beautiful singing from Kirk Talley and some gorgeous harmonies from the quartet.  Adding to the creativity is the fact that Talley sings his step out lines on the second chorus an octave higher than on the previous chorus, swooping up from the quartet harmonies to the higher melody.  The tag includes the swirling strings, though a bit more subdued than the intro, but features a swirling round vocal tag that features the Cathedrals first, with the repeat done by female studio vocalists, again hearkening the listener to winds whipping through a forest of evergreen trees in winter.

There’s not a whole lot of flash here, but it’s a gorgeous, very well crafted song.  Someone needs to bring this one back.  If you have the album (or like me, the LP AND the 8-track!), spin it up and give it another listen!

Hidden Gems: Turning Point – “Devil’s Barbecue”

I don’t know for sure that I’d call this a “Hidden Gem” but it’s a song that I remember fondly from my childhood.  It’s a gimmicky song in the vein of “Excuses”, but it’s a catchy little tune about going to a barbecue hosted by the devil and finding out that you’re the one that’s getting grilled.  The last verse talks about another party that’s not as popular, but you won’t get burned.  It’s pure cheese, but I was probably 8 years old or so when I heard it, I loved it, and I still remember it.

The biggest reason I’m posting this is to ask: does anyone else know/remember this group?  It was a trio that consisted of Phil Gore and identical twin brothers, Jim and John Lancaster.  The very few results I’ve found on Google on them is that they were formed at Judson College, a Baptist college in Illinois.  They came to my church in WV when I was a kid and sang for a revival, so they were there several nights.  These guys had a really smooth sound.  Probably a more worthy hidden gem would have been their version of “Surely The Presence”, but that just might make it to a Definitives post.  It’s that good.  Do any of you readers know where these guys are now?

Hidden Gems: Jake Hess and The Imperials – “I’ve Got It”

In the long, storied history of the Imperials, you can be sure that there are many “hidden gems” just waiting to be rediscovered.  One of the more forgotten eras of the group, strangely enough, is the period with Jake Hess.  This particular tune comes from 1967’s To Sing Is The Thing, which was Hess’s last as a regular group member.  Personnel on this song are Jim Murray – Tenor, Jake Hess – Lead, Gary McSpadden – Baritone, Armond Morales – Bass, and Joe Moscheo – Piano.

While the next album, New Dimensions, went farther in pushing the Imperials toward the contemporary edge of Gospel music, this cut was a nice foreshadowing of what was to come.  The preceding cut, “To Be With God” was a soft, smooth ballad featuring McSpadden.  What comes from the grooves next is a stinging electric guitar with heavy percussion that sounds like something off a British Invasion group’s LP from a couple years prior.  Hess sings a lyric that talks about getting saved and having similar faith to Biblical heroes.

In these later years the thought of Hess singing a pop-ish tune seems far-fetched, but in fact liner notes to an old Statesmen album make the claim that Hess could have had a career in popular music, and this song proves that claim true.  There’s some nice harmony from the group on the song, and Jim Murray’s smooth tenor helps sell the tune, along with some nice step in bass lines from Morales.  The song ends with Hess repeating “I’ve got it!” with some harmonized “oohs” from the other vocalists while the electric guitar plays some nice licks while the track fades out.  If you’ve got this LP, or the CD version that Armond and the Imperials re-released several years ago, pull this track up.  It’s very atypical for this era of the group, and it’s a lot of fun!

Hidden Gems: The Nelons – “Holy Is Thy Name”

This is one of those songs that has been sung by a ton of groups, with Legacy Five staging it currently to feature Gus Gaches.  Even the Nelons had previously recorded this song, on their debut album as The Rex Nelons Singers, but the version found on their Hallelujah Live project from 1995 is a stellar, if lesser known, version.  This configuration of the group featured Charlotte Ritchie on soprano, Kelly Nelon (Thompson, at the time) singing alto, Jerry Thompson on tenor, Rex Nelon on Bass, with Stan Whitmire at the piano and Todd Nelon on the bass guitar.  This is actually the opening song on the project.  Kelly takes the verses, with Charlotte taking the melody on the choruses.  This song was incredibly well suited for both of them.  Kelly has a Karen Carpenter-like sound on the verses, and Charlotte by this time was really starting to come into her own as a vocalist.  After the second chorus, the key changes and goes up a fourth, I believe and Charlotte is able to display a bit more range.  Throughout the song, the background harmonies and group vocals on the chorus are fabulous.  Also deserving mention is Whitmire’s incredible piano stylings.  It’s no wonder he is so often raved for his artistry at the keys, and this song allows him to showcase the immense talent that oozes from his fingers.  There is a choir that joins in after the key change as well, but in contrast to a lot of songs I’ve heard lately that have a choir backing the group, the Nelons’ vocals remain out front, and are not in any way drowned out by the choir.  The choir simply accentuates the song, without becoming the focal point.  If you’ve got this CD, pull it out and spin up track one again.  If this song and performance don’t move you, something’s wrong!

Hidden Gems: Rebels – “The Joy Of Knowing Jesus”

This song was recommended to me by Dean Adkins (thanks Dean!) and for good reason.  It appears on the Rebels’ Revealing Sounds LP from 1970.  Personnel on this recording are Charles Booth, Ron Booth, Sr., Jim Hamill, and John Gresham.  It’s a ballad that starts with a simple acoustic guitar intro with smooth group vocals on the first verse continuing with simply the guitar as accompaniment.  After the verse, the key changes with a piano being added.  The second verse is done as a tenor solo.  The chorus features some gorgeous singing from the quartet that builds up to a big tag.  It’s really a marvelous cut that shows you don’t have to have a huge, orchestrated track to have a powerful sound to a ballad.  Piano and guitar are the only instruments present here, and they are played lightly in a way that pushes the focus of the song on the lyrics and vocals.  If you happen to have this LP, pull it out and spin this song again!

Hidden Gems: All-Star Quartets – “Their Day Will Come”

Several years ago now, Daywind produced a couple of projects that featured “All-Star Quartets.”  The first project was of current material, some at least which had been recorded recently by mainline groups.  The second project was a collection of hymns.  The story was that they would grab someone at NQC and send them into a makeshift studio to record a part on the song.  You wound up with pairings like Ernie Haase, Daniel Riley, Jason Clark, and Christian Davis recording a quartet song together (this was a real pairing, on the song “Love Answered”).  This particular song features Depp Britt on tenor, Loren Harris on lead, Scott Mills (of the Southern Brothers) on baritone, and Dan Clark on bass.  This tune was a flowing, mid-tempo song with a bit of a Latin feel.  The three top parts each take solo lines on the verses, with the full quartet sound on the chorus.  Loren Harris knocked the lead part on this out of the park, and the chorus features some of the smoothest singing and interesting chord progressions on the disc.  It’s a great lyric that pays tribute to the “unsung heroes” in our lives.  If you’ve got this CD, it’s the very last song on the disc, so spin it up, because they really did save the best for last.  It’s a very nice cut that just leaves you feeling good.

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