Classics Corner: JD Sumner and the Stamps – “Leaning On The Arms Of Jesus”

This album was recorded in 1973 and features Bill Baize, tenor; Donnie Sumner, lead; Ed Enoch, baritone; and Ed Wideman, bass. This album is notable in that the only appearance of JD is on Old Man Death, where he sings “I Won’t Have To Cross Jordan Alone” and performs his now famous recitation. This was Wideman’s only album with the group, and a few years later he passed away tragically. Also of note, songwriter Phil Johnson was the pianist for the Stamps at the time, and he had 2 songs on this LP, including the title track.

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Tracks

  1. Leaning On The Arms Of Jesus – This is a midtempo number that has a bit of a contemporary feel with rock style electric guitars. Donnie Sumner sings lead and does a great job. There is some really nice harmony in the background. As expected, there are snippets of “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms” interspersed throughout the song. Some hot guitar licks fade the song out after the last chorus and tag.
  2. God Will Take Care Of You/I’ve Never Been Out Of His Care – Built around the hymn “God Will Take Care Of You”, most of the medley is the song “I’ve Never Been Out Of His Care”, which showcases some nice solo work by Bill Baize and smooth harmonies from the group. A couple lines of the chorus of the hymn lead to the tag with a nice suspended ending. Good solid tune.
  3. I Am The Reason – Big ballad that features Ed Enoch. Ed turns in what I consider to be one of the finest performances of his Stamps tenure. Very powerful lyrics and a brilliant interpretation by Enoch highlight this tune. The group’s sound did not suffer at all when Enoch and D. Sumner switched parts. The arrangement on this song is impeccable. One of the highlights of the album.
  4. Must I Go And Empty Handed – I featured this track as a hidden gem not too long ago. The acappella lines at the beginning of the song are incredible. This is another highlight of the album. Ed Wideman had a great voice, what a tragic loss to an automobile accident. This may be the best song on the LP.
  5. If His Coming Were Today – This song starts at a bit of a mid-tempo and features Ed Enoch again. Midway through the song, the tempo ramps up to much greater speed and the rhythm changes to a typical SG cut time feel, though the drums are playing an almost syncopated rhythm. Very solid singing by the quartet, with some nice counterpoint harmony after the tempo change. Nice tune, with a nice high tag at the end.
  6. Jesus Cares For Me – Mid-tempo country flavored song featuring Donnie Sumner. His performance is fine, as is the group harmony on the chorus. Again, the rhythm changes between the verses and the chorus. It’s an OK song, but is a little too country for me. The group really does the traditional to slightly contemporary sound better than the country stuff. The rhythm changes between the verses and chorus are interesting, though.
  7. I Like What’s Happened To Me – This is Bill Baize’s power tenor ballad. Baize was one of the first tenors to embrace this type of song. Brian Free is today’s best comparison in terms of being able to deliver these types of songs. This is another highlight of the album. I’d love to hear Baize resurrect this song with the current Prophets quartet. His performance of this strong song is flawless. Great arrangement with some nice cascading harmony on the last chorus. Bill Baize really shines on this song.
  8. Old Man Death – This is JD Sumner’s only appearance on this song. A very touching recitation by JD that never ceases to be a tear jerker. He reprised this on the last Stamps album before his death, The Final Sessions. His solo on a couple lines of “I Won’t Have To Cross Jordan Alone” are especially moving.
  9. What Then – Moving performance of this song by Donnie Sumner. His ability to sing ballads is very underrated. Donnie has an incredibly expressive voice, and this song gives him a chance to showcase it. This song has great lyrics that challenge each of us in how we live our lives and what we have done with Jesus. Donnie is the quintessential lead singer, one of the best we’ve ever had. He had smoothness, power, and range. His arranging abilities are incredible, which is the icing on the cake. It’s been good to see him back in the fold on the Gaither videos. This is a great performance by him.
  10. Good Old Days – This is one of those songs that gets stuck in your head for days on end. The tambourine introduction is great, as is the presence of the instrument throughout the song. This is a fairly traditional mid to uptempo convention style song. The quartet really turns in a great performance, as do Ed Enoch and Donnie Sumner on their respective verses. I could have done without the twangy steel guitar, but it’s really a minor flaw on an otherwise great song. Bill Baize takes the lead on the last couple of choruses. The ending of this song is very unique. They put a typical high tag on a false ending, then come back in with unison repeats of the first verse as they fade out.

This is a great album, and probably from top to bottom the best studio album from JD and the Stamps. Great arrangements, powerful lyrics, and incredible vocals are the norm on this album. This is a “desert island” album, as Nate likes to term them. (If you were on a desert island and only had X number of albums….) If you have a copy, pull it back out and listen to a great LP. If you don’t, find a copy on eBay or scour some antique shops. It’s well worth it.

*Note: Thanks again to John C. for the scan and the tidbit about P. Johnson!

Classics Corner: Perfect Heart – “Looking For The Wounded”

The year 1992 saw the release of Perfect Heart’s second album, Looking For The Wounded. This was still the original lineup of Danny Funderburk, Dale Shipley, Mark Lanier, and Mike Presnell with Jeff Stice and Aubrey Stephens. I bought the cassette when it came out, and just recently bought the CD from Amazon. This was a big step up from the first major release, It Comes From The Heart.

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Tracks

  1. I’ve Got An Old Time Religion – Great uptempo opening cut with a great brass section. Dale Shipley sings the verses and does his typical outstanding job. The quartet world really misses the lead voice of Dale Shipley. He is the quintessential lead singer. The harmony on the tag is especially nice.
  2. The First Look – Great power ballad. The first verse starts with soft, smooth harmony by the group with Shipley doing the last . After the chorus, which is great in its own right, Funderburk takes the second verse and leads to a very powerful chorus that is a bit reminiscent of the type of power Danny had with the Cathedrals. This song is one of the highlights of the disc.
  3. The Pleasure Is Mine – Kudos to Jeff Stice on the brilliant piano ragtime introduction and interlude on this peppy tune. Shipley has the lead throughout the song. Solid singing, a nice arrangement, especially on the tag, and a great message highlight this very enjoyable tune. The harmony on the last chord is impeccable.
  4. Glory Waves – Military themed ballad featuring Mike Presnell. Mike has such a smooth, deep bass voice. He really shines on this song. Very evocative lyrics that portray life on earth as a constant battlefield and Heaven the homecoming of the soldiers. Very powerful song, another nice performance by the group on the choruses. Nothing really flashy in terms of the arrangement, but solid power block harmony. Great song.
  5. I Wish It Would Rain – This is the song that most people remember from the album. This song oozes ’50s doo-wop, and is one of the most unique SG songs recorded in the last 20 years or so. The performance is flawless. Nice sax work by Sam Levine on the track. You could really think you were listening to the Platters, or Danny and the Juniors on this one. It’s complete with Danny F. pulling the “Oooo-weee-ooo-oooh” falsetto ending. This is just an incredibly fun song, but with a great lyric to go along with the unique arrangement.
  6. In My Wildest Dreams – A gorgeous acappella introduction leads off this mid-tempo number. This was the other big radio single from this project, and was the first single sent to radio. It was fairly successful, if memory serves me correctly, it went top 10, maybe top 5. Shipley shines on the second verse. He keeps the lead through the chorus, then Funderburk takes the third verse and final chorus. Nice cascading harmony on the tag with a power ending finish off this great track.
  7. Looking For The Wounded – This is a nice soft ballad that returns to the battlefield imagery first used on “Glory Waves”. I particularly like the string arrangement on the introduction. This is a solid song, with some nice sax work again by Levine on the track, which almost has a Kenny G type feel to it. Mark Lanier takes the first verse, with Danny taking the second before getting into the chorus. It’s probably the weakest song on the CD, but is still a solid song, nonetheless. If I were rating tracks on this CD like I do for actual reviews, it would probably get a 6, so it’s still a nice song with some really smooth harmony.
  8. Mercy Fell On Me – Uptempo, in-your-face tune that really contrasts from the soft “Looking For The Wounded”. Mark Lanier sings the verses, with each group member taking the lead on a line of the chorus. A nice key change leads to the second chorus. They then invert some of the harmony on a repeat of the chorus. The ending could have been stronger, but still a solid cut.
  9. Yes Is The Answer – Mid-tempo 3-4 song that was also a fairly successful single from the album. Dale Shipley sings the verses, and turns in one of his finest performances with Perfect Heart. This song was made for Dale’s voice. I can’t say enough about his lead singing. He’s everything you want in your lead singer, and shows it on this song. After the second chorus they change keys and Funderburk takes the lead on another chorus. Nice tag and a high power ending bring this song to its conclusion. Highlight number 2 of 3 on this album.
  10. How Rich I Am – Wow. Just wow. Here’s highlight number 3. Incredible acappella performance of a song previously recorded by the Imperials. I happen to like this arrangement better than even the Imperials version. It is fairly close to the Imperials’ arrangement for most of the song, but they change up a couple of chords in the middle of the song that become unworldly in their beauty. A sweet harmonic end to a great album.

This album was a major step up for Perfect Heart, and really showed that they belonged with the big boys at the time. Not surprising, given the enormous amount of talent in this lineup and a producer like Otis Forrest. If you have a copy of this recording, dust it off and give it another listen. If you don’t, find one on Ebay or Amazon. You won’t be sorry.

Classics Corner: Brian Free & Assurance – “Things That Last Forever”

This was Brian Free and Assurance’s sophomore release. Group members were Brian Free, Kevin Price and Mike Lefevre. This CD was a bit hard to find at the time. I never found it in a bookstore, my grandparents actually ordered this CD for me from Springside as a Christmas present the year it came out (1995, I think).

Tracks:

  1. More Love and Compassion – The CD kicks off with a peppy, progressive SG song. Brian sings the verses and does a good job on them. Electric guitars, organ, and a dobro(!) highlight the backing track. This is a good solid song to get the CD started off right. Nothing spectacular here, but just a good song. The lyrics are very good and serve as a reminder of our call to show Christ’s love in our daily lives.
  2. Have Your Way – Nice tenor ballad. Brian sings the verse, and the chorus features a smooth vocal from the group with tight harmonies. The ballad has that touch of a contemporary edge that the trio manifestation of BF&A was so good at pulling off. A nice touch is the little change of the background harmonies on the last chorus after the key change. It adds enough spice to the song to keep it from becoming too repetitive.
  3. Things That Last Forever – Nice acoustic guitar and electric piano work here. This is a Gaither classic from the early ’80s. Mike Lefevre sings the verses and really shines on them. He does a great job. Kevin Price takes the lead on the chorus, and the song and arrangement fit his voice very well. Very, very smooth performance. I really like this song.
  4. There Is A Love – This is a country flavored mid-tempo tune. Mike Lefevre is again featured on the first verse, and keeps the lead on the first chorus. This is probably the most traditional sounding song on the CD. After a key change, Brian sings the second verse and keeps the lead. I really think the group had the best blend when Free had the lead with Price and Lefevre stacked below him. With that harmony voicing, they had the smoothest blend I’ve heard in a long time.
  5. He Thought Of Me – This was the radio hit from this CD. It is the type of power tenor ballad that Brian Free has made a career of singing. Great lyrics, great performance by Free on the verses and the trio on the choruses. I love the change in the arrangement of the chorus after the key change. The tag features some really soaring high vocals, especially by Brian on his solo line. This song actually wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Gold City’s Pillars Of Faith project. Nothing more to say than just a great song.
  6. Come To The Waters – Fairly pop sounding mid-tempo tune that features Kevin Price singing. This song probably could have been played on both SG and CCM radio equally well. This was the style that Price could really do well. Good song and a good performance. BF&A could really sing this pop style well. Come to think of it, they STILL do this style really well.
  7. Emmaus – I just posted this as a hidden gem with “More Of Jesus”, so I won’t beleaguer the point here. Great song. Very contemporary sounding. Smooth vocals and harmony.
  8. Who Said Life Isn’t Fair – Another peppy tune featuring Kevin Price. Kevin gives a great performance with a fairly soulful vocal on the verses. This is a good song, with an interesting vocal key change that doesn’t sound like it wasn’t exactly easy to pull off. Brian sings the lead after the key change. The tag has some nice background parts. Good solid song.
  9. More Of Jesus – Again, I just posted this as a hidden gem, so I won’t be repetitious here. This song and “Emmaus” are highlights of the CD.
  10. I’ve Never Been Out Of His Love – Mid-tempo tune with again just a hint of contemporary stylings. Mike sings the first verse then an interesting key change with the chorus led by Kevin. The key changes again for another verse by Mike. Key change again for the chorus, and a nice change in the harmony on the last line as a tag. Again, nothing really flashy, but solid.

This was a major step up from the trio’s initial self titled release. While the first CD was good, this one really raised the bar for Brian Free and Assurance. This is by far their best project as a trio, and there is a subtle contemporary vein running through the entire project. There are three really outstanding tracks here in “He Thought Of Me”, “Emmaus”, and “More Of Jesus”. Another highlight is “Things That Last Forever”. However, there is not a weak song on the CD. The ensemble has a very smooth sound and great blend that permeates the entire recording. As this is no longer available on the BF&A website, you are stuck with getting a copy from ebay or amazon. Still, it is definitely worth seeking out a copy of this CD, I had honestly forgotten just how good a project this was until I listened to it again a week or so ago.

Christmas Classics Corner: Cathedrals – A Cathedral Christmas, Acappella

My next Classics Corner profile is of the Cathedrals acappella Christmas album. Recorded in 1985, this album features Danny Funderburk, Mark Trammell, Roger Bennett, Glen Payne, and George Younce. Some have called this the greatest Christmas recording of all time, and I tend to agree with the assessment. The arrangements are all done by Lari Goss, and are performed impeccably. Each side of the recording opens with a unison “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and closes with a slightly modified tag of “White Christmas” that is other-worldly in its beauty, but I am not going to count these as tracks. So without further adieu, let’s get to the real tracks.

  1. Angels We Have Heard On High – A fairly traditional first verse and chorus lead to a gorgeous bridge/modulation. The second verse is sung in a round style, leading to a broadened final chorus and a high power ending. What a great arrangement, and sung perfectly.
  2. Silent Night – This track features a terrific group vocal on the first verse of this familiar carol, with a thrilling cascading harmony on the line “Sleep in heavenly peace.” George Younce performs a recitation with background oohs from the rest of the group during the second verse. The song ends with the “Sleep in heavenly peace” tag being reprised. Stunning in its beauty.
  3. Hark The Herald Angels Sing – Uptempo rendering of this carol. Effective uses of unison and two part harmony in the first and second verses. The second chorus inverts the harmony up on the last line which really closes the song out in a nice way.
  4. It Came Upon A Midnight Clear – A very straighforward first verse leads into a great vocal by Danny on the second with some really nice chords behind him. This is a bit of a pattern on this album, with a very traditional first verse leading to a more adventurous second verse. This song has a great bridge to a tag with Glen singing the lead on the end. Nice, tight harmony.
  5. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – A basically unison first couple of lines to the first verse lead to traditional four part harmony on the rest of the verse. The next verse has some nice point-counterpoint singing, leading to a round on the next section, building to a power high ending. A great arrangement, that the group actually continued to stage for years after.
  6. Joy To The World – Brilliant arrangement with some canon sections, solo and two part sections that lead to a very broad, majestic performance of the last verse that ends very sweetly.
  7. We Three Kings – Great minor key arrangement with a great bass vocal by George Younce. George especially shines on his solo performance of the second verse. The third verse really ratchets up the harmony with an incredible modulation into the chorus. Another brilliant modulation into the tag is a perfect ending to the song. Great arrangement and performance.
  8. Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem – Beautiful arrangement. This song hearkens back to some of the harmonies on the “Voices In Praise” album with Kirk Talley. Some nice unison and two part lines that cascade into four part. The ending of this song always puzzled me though. They build through the last verse, with great vocals, then Glen repeats the last line solo, which always just seemed odd to me.
  9. Kids Medley – A fun conglomeration of Christmas Time’s A Comin’ wrapped around Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and Jingle Bells. A nice modulation and repeat of Christmas Time’s A Comin’ lead to a power high ending again. This is short, but has some really nice harmony and unexpected chords even through the fun songs. On a personal note, my 2 year old son LOVES this song, and when it comes on while we are driving, we are forced to repeat it numerous times for him. At just over a minute and a half in length, it doesn’t last very long, which means lots of repeats…. .

This is a short, but incredible album filled with great arrangments, nice harmonies, and thrilling performances from the version of the Cathedrals that many people count as their favorite. This is what Christmas music should sound like. Is it the greatest Christmas album of all time? That is most definitely open for debate, but I can’t find much to argue with here. Aside from the strange ending to “Little Town”, this is simply perfection from start to finish.

Classics Corner: Prophets – “Prophets” Sing 3002

One of the things I want to do with this blog is to highlight some classic recordings from SG’s past. I’m not going to rate these albums 1-10 as I do current albums, but I will give you a brief track by track review. I am very fortunate to count as a friend one of SG’s finest historians, John Crenshaw, who graciously agreed to read these reviews and correct any historical inaccuracies plus add any of his comments on these albums before I post them. He also sent me the picture of the album cover. Thanks John!

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Up first is the Prophets self titled album on Sing records. Personnel on this album include Lew Garrison, Jay Berry, Ed Hill, Jim Boatman, and Joe Moscheo.

  1. Sinner Let Me Tell You – Great uptempo number to open the album. There is some really nice modern harmony on the last chorus of this song.
  2. Worry Who I – Jay Berry absolutely shines on this track. Others may not hear it, but to me, Jay’s lead vocal on this track sounds very much like Mark Trammell. I wonder if Mark took some of his stylings from the great Jay Berry.
  3. Old Hymns Medley – This is a nice rendering of a couple of hymns. Jim Boatman does a great job on “Standing Somewhere In The Shadows.” He has a smooth bass voice that really anchors the anchors the quartet’s sound. He has plenty of depth as well.
  4. In Heaven – Nice ballad. The tempo increases with a nice harmony inversion at the end of the song.
  5. So High, So Low – A much different arrangement than the popular Kingsmen version. This almost has a 50’s pop sound, with again some nice modern harmony at the end. What a smooth blending group.
  6. Sweet Hour Of Prayer – Fairly straight ahead rendition of the classic hymn.
  7. No Disappointments In Heaven – Great ballad written by George Younce and Kenny Gates of the Blue Ridge Quartet. Great harmony singing on the bridge and there is the typical Prophets high harmony on the ending.
  8. When God Dips His Love In My Heart – Straight ahead rendition of the Cleavant Derricks tune. Jim Boatman does some great bass singing on this song, and has a couple really nice vocal runs on the choruses. Nice key change at the second verse and a great lead from Garrison with tight background harmonies.
  9. Wait Till You See My New Home – Incredible blend and incredible harmony on a great Joe Moscheo arrangement of this classic. To me, this version ranks right up there with the Statesmen version. The Prophets may have had the highest harmony of any group of the time period.
  10. By His Word – The short intro makes you think this is going to be a churchy anthem, then the Prophets come in with a straight ahead up tempo tune. Each member gets a chance to take the lead, ending up with Lew Garrison. Very serviceable tune.
  11. Promise You’ll Meet Me – Tender ballad by the group. This is probably my least favorite song on the album, but it is still very solid. Just a nice smooth ballad.
  12. I’ve Got To Sing – Fast song that closes the album splendidly. Jay Berry again sounds a little like Mark Trammell in some of his stylings on this song. Not quite as much as on “Worry Who I”, but I still can hear Mark Trammell singing this.

Overall, this is a really good album. The arrangements by Moscheo are very well done, with a lot of modern harmony sprinkled throughout the album. The cover artwork is nice as well, it is a charcoal drawing of the group. This is a little known or talked about album, but it is an absolute gem of a recording.

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