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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