Jordan Cragun Exits Liberty Quartet

Yesterday was another one of those days for changes.  Jordan Cragun announced via his Facebook page that this weekend will be his last with Liberty Quartet (hat tip, Lauren).  After the departure of Doran Ritchey, Cragun admirably filled the baritone part with the group, with a richness and depth to his voice that exceeded his years.  He turned in a particularly strong performance on Liberty’s cover of the Imperials’ “Light At The End Of The Darkness” in concert.  He is going to be taking advantage of some opportunities to minister with his wife, Elena.  Best wishes to Jordan and Elena in their new direction and to Liberty in their search for a new baritone.

A Few Personnel Changes

Over the past few days or weeks there have been a few personnel changes that I haven’t commented on yet.

  • Keith Waggoner departed Liberty Quartet’s tenor position to become the Senior Pastor at his home church.  He will be replaced by Phillip Batton, who has filled in for Keith occasionally in the past.  Keith is probably the best tenor singer the average SG fan has never heard of, due to their remote location in Idaho.  He will be missed, but Liberty should transition very smoothly with a somewhat familiar voice at tenor.
  • Cody McVey has left the piano bench of The Kingsmen to attend college at Lee University.  The Kingsmen are currently accepting auditions by emailing
  • Shaye Smith has taken maternity leave from the Chuck Wagon Gang, and Penny Greene is filling in during the interim.  Greene sang with the CWG for several years previously.

Best wishes to all the departures and arrivals.  I’m sure there will be more in the coming days, as there always seems to be a marked increase in personnel changes as NQC approaches.

SG News and Notes

A couple of things have come down the pipe over the past couple days…

  • The Absolutely Gospel Awards were presented a couple nights ago.  You can find a list of the winners here.  I saw on Twitter that there was a particularly moving tribute paid to Susan Unthank, which was very much deserved.  On a lighter note, by all accounts Madison “The Awkward” Easter and Devin “Socks” McGlamery did a fine job hosting the ceremony!
  • Liberty Quartet, in a video post on Daniel Mount’s blog, announced the departure of long time lead vocalist Dan Gilbert.

Anything else caught your attention this week?

NQC Schedule And Controversy

In recent news, the NQC has announced their main stage schedule here.  This has sparked some pretty heated discussion, as the Board cut down the number of artists on each night, and in doing so, eliminated some artists from the main stage altogether.  By far, the elimination causing the most controversy has been the Dixie Melody Boys.  Complicating matters is the fact that this year is the 50th anniversary of the Dixie Melody Boys, and the group had hoped to stage a “mini-reunion” with their set.

A few of the other omissions are notable to me as well: Soul’d Out, Liberty Quartet and the Ball Brothers.  I really feel like the Ball Brothers represent the future of SG music, so it’s a shame that they won’t be appearing this year, Liberty is the best quartet the average SG fan has never heard, and Soul’d Out is the reigning Horizon Group of the Year.  The 50th Anniversary of the DMB is the most unfortunate situation though, and I hope that the NQC Board will find some way to get them a slot to allow them to celebrate such a milestone.

That being said, look, the NQC Board is also really in a no-win situation here.  Every year we hear complaints about how attendance is dwindling, and how the evening concerts continually run into the wee hours and are way over the scheduled time.  The “stop light” and fines have helped some, but the concerts still seem to run long.  Credit the NQC for trying to address the situation.  The only real way to do so is to cut back the number of artists on the main stage each night.  In doing so, someone is by necessity going to have to be left out, and the artists and fans be upset by their omission.  If it’s the DMB, their fans would be upset, if it’s the Pfeifers, their fans would be upset, or the Primitives, or whoever it is.

My suggestion somewhat dovetails with Kyle’s above, but I’d suggest setting aside 2-3 slots that are reserved for a single slot for the “second-tier” artists, and let them rotate years.  Maybe one year you have the DMB, Primitives, and Chuck Wagon Gang, then the next year you have Liberty, Ball Brothers, and HisSong.  You could even merge the two suggestions and allow the groups without a prime time slot to have the “opening” slots that year.

Either way, the NQC Board is at least trying something, and there’s something to be said for that.  I’d rather see them trying new ideas than to be content to turn a blind eye and let the status-quo continue.

NQC ’10: Wednesday Recap

There still wasn’t too much chatter, though several blogs have decent roundups available.

  • Several artists attended the GVB/EHSS showcase (Daniel Riley, Libbi Stuffle, et al) and all said the showcase was spectacular.  Other bloggers and attendees weren’t quite as impressed.
  • I discovered that enLighten is broadcasting from the NQC live in the evenings, interspersing mainstage performances with interviews.  I heard the Inspirations set, and as others mentioned, the acappella song they sang was particularly good.  They have a much different vocal sound with Campbell, Ragan, and Hosterman.  Solid all the way around.
  • Liberty Quartet had a full set tonight instead of the one song appearance that they made a couple years ago.  Keith Waggoner’s feature song was noted as particularly good.
  • Jeff and Sheri had a notable set as well.  In addition to Morgan, Madison Easter joined in on some harmony vocals as well tonight, which one twitter comment said was a throwback to their sound with Rabbit.
  • Another show of solidarity tonight between Scott Fowler and Josh Cobb.  I’m glad to see this, as it really makes both guys look good.  Cobb and Fowler shared an embrace at center stage after their groups had been part of a larger singalong of “Boundless Love”, where more than one person praised Cobb’s vocals.
  • Buzz of the Night Award:  Speaking of Gold City, they debuted two songs off their soon to be released mainline CD.  One was an unnnamed cover of an old Dixie Hummingbird tune, “It Won’t Be Long”, and the other was Josh Cobb singing “I Stand Redeemed.”  Both went over extremely well, with “Redeemed” drawing the crowd to its feet.

Complete NQC Schedule Released

The NQC has released their full schedule for NQC 2010, you can find the master schedule here.  Noticing in the evening concerts that the Collingsworth Family, Crist Family, Ball Brothers, and Liberty Quartet all are making mainstage appearances.  Nice to see these up and coming groups continuing to get some love from the NQC!

Review: Liberty Quartet – The Journey

This is the latest recording from Liberty Quartet from Boise, ID and features Keith Waggoner, Tenor; Dan Gilbert, Lead; Jordan Cragun, Baritone; Royce Mitchell, Bass with Doran Ritchey as pianist, though Doran has since left the group to join up with Phil Cross.  While this is an independent release, it was recorded at Crossroads’ Studios.


  1. The Journey – This celtic flavored midtempo number was written by Doran Ritchey and Jim Davis and is a fine way to start the album.  I particularly the way they mix up the use of unison and two part harmonies in addition to the full four part quartet harmonies.  I also love the harmonies on the bridge.  This is a solid opener with nice vocals.  8.5/10
  2. He Came Down To My Level – Dwight Liles’ classic is given an acoustic, driving country feel, and even features a mouth harp prominently in the track.  It really gives the song a unique feel from other versions.  Bass singer Royce Mitchell is featured on the verses and he does a stand up job on them.  The vocal arrangement on this song is quite different than any other one you’ve probably heard, and that’s not a bad thing.  Mitchell gets the opportunity to smack some nice low notes on the last chorus when the harmonies are inverted.  I like the way Liberty made this song their own.  9/10
  3. I Made It Mine – Jordan Cragun gets his first feature on this Doran Ritchey penned tune.  It is given an acoustic/mountain midtempo feel.  Cragun’s voice really fits this story type song, and the vocals on the chorus are incredibly smooth.  This song really features some great singing.  This style isn’t normally my favorite, but this is a good song.  8.5/10
  4. I Love Living In Grace – This Rodney Griffin tune is given a big band jazz type feel, and this is Liberty at their best.  The verses feature some great four part harmony.  These guys know how to sing, and they excel with the jazzy songs.  Smooth vocals and some bass echoes from Royce Mitchell on the second chorus are highlights.  The key changes and Keith Waggoner takes the melody on the chorus from Dan Gilbert.  This is one of my favorite songs on the CD.  9.5/10
  5. Till There Was Jesus – A classic from W. Elmo Mercer is given a soft jazz treatment by the group.  As I said above, Liberty excels with this style.  The track features some nice jazz piano playing.  This is a great performance with some nice harmonies and chords.  Royce Mitchell gets the second verse as a solo and shows off some nice vocals.  The cascading harmonies leading into the second chorus are breathtaking.  This is a simply amazing track.  10/10
  6. God Made A Way – John Robinson and Twila LaBar contribute this driving country song.  Dan Gilbert is featured on this tune and shows that he is a more than capable lead singer.  Solid quartet harmonies highlight this track.  This is just a solid, solid song.  7.5/10
  7. He Came To Me – This ballad by Jeff Bumgardner is given a slightly progressive feel, and is the only song to feature tenor Keith Waggoner.  Keith is a very underrated tenor that has a nice full, smooth sound.  I really like the syncopated rhythm that shows up in spots in the chorus.  Powerful lyrics and smooth harmonies make this song another highlight of the disc.  9.5/10
  8. The Welcome – Doran Ritchey is featured on this song that he penned.  It’s an acoustic ballad, that has some great harmonies.  The message of the song is very strong as well.  I also really like the percussion on the track, it’s very well done.  Solid tune.  7.5/10
  9. Too Long – This Doran Ritchey tune is given a fairly straight ahead quartet reading by the group as it bounces along.  The chorus features a few solo pickup lines from Royce Mitchell.  There is some really nice close harmony in the chorus that is easy to miss if you aren’t listening closely.  Mitchell also sings the verses as a bass solo.  This is an enjoyable song.  8/10
  10. He’ll Come Through – This straight ahead mid to up tempo song was written by Doran Ritchey.  Dan Gilbert is featured on the verses here and he provides some smooth lead vocals.  Smooth quartet harmonies highlight the chorus.  This is another solid song.  The round like tag on this song is worth mentioning as well, it is very well done.  7.5/10
  11. In The Day Of The Lord – Jim Davis and Joel Lindsey penned this ballad, and Jordan Cragun does a fine job on the first verse.  The first chorus features almost a call and response feel from Cragun and the rest of the quartet in unison.  Cragun then sings the second verse.  The quartet comes in with nice harmony on the second that also features some nice quick cascading harmonies.  A bridge in unison builds the intensity to the last chorus again featuring smooth harmonies from the group.  This song fits the quartet like a glove, they really need to continue recording songs in this style.  Great job!  9.5/10
  12. Welcome To Heaven – Phil Cross’ classic originally recorded by the Singing Americans closes out the disc.  Lead singer Dan Gilbert really puts his own spin on the song, and doesn’t try to sound like Michael English (or Clayton Inman, for that matter).  I applaud him for resisting the temptation to try and do something that wouldn’t really fit his style.  As it is, he makes the song his own while still showing off some nice range, and there are some subtle differences in the harmonies on the chorus from the original version.  They have some nice passing tones as they change chords that really add a lot to the song.  This is very well done.  9.5/10

Overall: 8.5 Liberty Quartet has produced a very fine album with The Journey.  The group does a great job of selecting songs that fit their voices well.  They have the creativity and ability to add a lot of variety to their recordings without pushing their vocal ranges out of their comfort zones.  The tracks are all very well done, and the vocal performances are great.  These guys know how to sing, and how to sing correctly.  It continues to baffle me why they haven’t been signed by a major label yet, they most certainly have the talent and creativity to be an asset to any label’s roster.  Jordan Cragun has fit in nicely with the group’s sound, Royce Mitchell is an excellent bass singer, Dan Gilbert is a quintessential quartet lead, and Keith Waggoner has one of the finest tenor voices you’ll ever find.  This is a very good CD that you really need to check out.  Great job guys!

Note: This CD was supplied at no cost to the reviewer, however, this fact in no way influences the above review.

In The Studio

I’ve noticed that several groups are currently back in the studio working on new releases.  According to the blog at Crossroads, the Inspirations are currently in the studio working on their first project to feature David Ragan and Dallas Rogers at lead and tenor, respectively.  It will be interesting to see if there are any significant changes to the sound of the group and/or arrangements with the major changes in personnel.  Liberty Quartet states in their latest newsletter that they are working on a new recording titled The Journey as well.  I also noticed somewhere (I believe that it was on Facebook) that the Kingsmen are working on song selection for a new recording as well.  Keep an eye/ear out for all of these recordings, they should be good!

Joint Review: Liberty Quartet – Amazed


1. Amazed at the Change
Aaron: The album with a slightly slow, country-style tune. Sounds like something out of The Kingdom Heirs’ songbook. Nice way to open up the project.

2. Keep Me
Wes: This is a nice midtempo song with a slightly progressive edge to it.  The harmonies are nice and smooth, and they do a really good job of using some unison lines and verses to keep the song musically interesting.  This is a really nice cut.

Aaron: This song utilizes some great progressive harmonies to drive it. The group would do well to release this to radio soon.

3. Broken But Blessed
Daniel: This song, featuring tenor Keith Waggoner, is musically subdued but lyrically powerful. It was co-written by Twila LeBar and Sue C. Smith, two of the best but least recognized songwriters in Southern Gospel. (LeBar is co-writer of songs like “Orphans of God” and “The Great I Am Still Is”; Sue C. Smith has co-written songs like “But For the Blood,” “He Forgets,” “Forgave Me Saved Me Raised Me,” and “Realms of Glory Bright.”)

Wes: Keith does a great job on this song.  He’s not the highest tenor you are going to hear, but he has a very pleasing voice and does a great job interpreting this song.  There’s nothing really flashy here, as Daniel alluded to, but just some solid singing on a nice tune.

Daniel: Keith actually does have a few high notes in him. But he’s said in the past (here) that one thing the group stresses is that none of the vocalists push the limits of their range—that they only record and stage what they can consistently produce.

Aaron: That’s an interesting tidbit, Daniel. That shows me that these guys care about putting out quality music and preserving their voices.
The project’s first truly slow song is a good song. Just straight-forward singing, no vocal showboating.

4. Just Stand
Wes: Midtempo number featuring bass singer Royce Mitchell.  This sounds a lot like something you’d hear from the Kingdom Heirs.  Actually, there are several songs on this disc that sound a lot like KH tunes.  Since the KH are one of the most solid quartets around, that’s a good thing. This is a very enjoyable tune.

Daniel: Royce has had professional voice training and often utilizes an operatic voice. On this song, he drops the vibrato. I’d agree with Wes’s observation that this gives the song a Kingdom Heirs feel.

Aaron: Like the other guys have said, this does sound like a KH song, but I also find that it recalls the song “God’s Still Good” from Gold City’s Revival project. Mitchell displays a nice lower range here.

5. Into the Water
Daniel: This uptempo song is a nice change of pace from a string of slower ballads. If Liberty singles an uptempo song, this is probably the most radio-friendly uptempo song on the CD.

Wes: There is some nice smooth harmony on this song.  These guys know how to sing and how to blend.

6. Call It What it Is
Daniel: This song has a distinctive enough lyric and melody to be unique—but at the same time, it is unmistakably a Southern Gospel big ballad. This song should stand out and do well if singled. I received the CD about a week ago and (rare for me) the song is already on my top 50 most played list on iTunes (out of 11,000+ songs).

Aaron: Awesome song. Lead singer Dan Gilbert has a sound to his voice that sounds like Bryan Hutson, and it works very well for this track. Great choice for a single.

Daniel: Interesting comparision. I hadn’t thought of comparing Gilbert to Hutson—I’d been thinking along the lines of a comparison to Phil Cross or even Arthur Rice.

Wes: I actually don’t hear any of the 3 comparisons.  I think Gilbert has a sound all his own.  That doesn’t detract from the fact that this is one of the strongest songs on the disc.  Nice smooth harmonies on this number.  I really like this song.

7. Music at Midnight
Wes: Nice uptempo number.  This song sounds like the group was going after the type of sound that was found on Gold City’s “If God Be For Us” with strings and brass behind the more traditional SG instrumentation, including some nice banjo/guitar interplay on the instrumental break.  This song doesn’t quite measure up to Gold City’s gem, but it is still very enjoyable, and kudos on the arrangement.

8. He’s Been There Too
Daniel: Liberty Quartet bass singer Royce Mitchell is featured on this song. It’s somewhat unusual to give a bass singer a solo on a big ballad, but Mitchell is equally adept at singing straight-ahead low bass and almost operatic higher bass, and he showcases his operatic bass/baritone range to great effect here.

Aaron: As a first-time listener of Liberty Quartet, one would be hard-pressed to believe that the featured singer here is the same guy that was rocking the low end of the spectrum a couple of tracks back. But it is indeed Royce Mitchell, and like Daniel said, his bass/baritone range sounds great here.

Wes: This is a nice ballad, and Mitchell really shows some nice range.

9. Why Wouldn’t I
Aaron: Lead singer Dan Gilbert is a two-fold singer; on slower songs, he sounds like Bryan Hutson. But give him a hard-driving faster song like this and you have a young Arthur Rice. This is a good, country-style track.

Daniel: I didn’t notice earlier that you were about to get to the same comparison I had in mind!

Wes: This is a nice, solid uptempo track.  Nothing flashy, but just good solid singing.

10. He Will Quiet You

Wes: This is a nice, soft, tender ballad.  I like the echo harmonies on the first part of the chorus up against the unison echoes on the last part of the chorus.  The round like harmonies on the bridge are very nice as well, and something to set this song apart.

11. That’s What Love Does
Daniel: This song was written by baritone/pianist Doran Ritchey. The group pulls off some tight jazz harmonies with confidence.

Wes: I’m a sucker for jazz influenced songs, and these guys pull it off very well.  They have a really smooth sound, and this is one of my favorites.  The soft swing beat gets your foot tapping and your head bobbing.

Daniel: This is one of the strongest independently released projects I’ve heard this year. A label would really do well to pick this group up as soon as they can.

Aaron: I can’t say much more than Daniel has. It’s about time that this group gets the national recognition they deserve and get picked up by a major label. Of course, with Crossroads signing groups like nobody’s business these days, it may not be long!

Wes: These guys are one of the best kept secrets in Southern Gospel music.  These guys are solid at every position in the group and have a good concept of their strengths as vocalists.  They play to their respective strengths and don’t try to be something they are not.  They’ve done a good job of including a variety of styles on this project as well.  Somebody needs to pick these guys up on a major label, and soon!


Daniel: Average song rating – 4.0. Overall rating: 4.5.
Aaron: Average song rating – 4 stars. Overall rating: 4.5 stars.
Wes: Average song rating – 4 stars.  Overall rating: 4.5 stars

New Baritone For Liberty Quartet

Keith Waggoner has posted an entry on his blog that Liberty Quartet is adding a new baritone, Jordan Cragun.  Current baritone and pianist Doran Ritchey will be remaining with the group and concentrate solely on his pianist duties.  As a fellow double duty guy (pianist/vocalist) at times with our church quartet, I can fully understand his desire to pick one and stick with it.  Liberty Quartet’s latest CD, Amazed, will be featured in an upcoming joint review on, so be watching for it!

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