Classic Album Review : “Slaughter Writes, Imperials Sing” by Jake Hess & The Imperials

In this edition of Classic Album Review, we reach back to 1965 to remember a classic by Jake Hess & The Imperials. In late ’63, Hess organized the group with the goal of forming a quartet that would be one of the elite groups in Gospel Music immediately. Along with pianist/arranger/songwriter Henry Slaughter, Hess would enlist baritone Gary McSpadden, tenor vocalist Sherill Nielsen and Armond Morales on bass to round out the group. The inaugural lineup would remain together till 1966, when Nielsen departed and was replaced by Jim Murray. In my opinion, Slaughter Writes, Imperials Sing, was their finest album and the ultimate display of Jake & The Imperials at the top of their game. Each and every song on the album was written and arranged by Slaughter.

 Things kick off with a great uptempo quartet song, I’m Gonna Move Up To Heaven, with Hess leading the verses and Nielsen featured on the step out lines on the chorus. The group slows things down a bit with What A Precious Friend Is He, featuring the silky smooth bass of Morales on the second verse. The harmony on the chorus of this song is absolutely impeccable, four part harmony at its finest. Morales is also featured on the first verse of the next cut, I’ll Be There, with Hess singing the second verse. Slaughter himself is featured on the next cut, If The Lord Wasn’t Walking By My Side. Hess takes the feature on There’s A Reason For It All, a song that seemed to be tailor made just for him. Jake was one of the finest stylists to ever sing lead in a quartet, he knew exactly the right touch that a song needed vocally. Side one comes to a conclusion with For Such A Time As This.

The second half of the album kicks off with a Hess standard, God Takes Good Care Of Me. Hess once again struts his stuff on “It’s Worth More Than Anything”, another excellent example of fine quartet singing. Gary McSpadden is featured on the next cut, Then The Answer Came, with Hess & Nielsen taking the first verse and McSpadden the step out lines on the chorus and second verse. Gary once again is featured on I’ll Never Forget, with Hess leading the chorus. Next up, the group tackles another classic, “I’ve Never Loved Him Better”. The album closes out with Nielsen singing “A Place of Peace”.

The inaugural lineup would remain together till 1966, when Nielsen departed and was replaced by Jim Murray. Slaughter would leave in 67, with the late Joe Moscheo (Harmoneers, Prophets) taking his place. The group would release one album that year, To Sing Is The Thing. In 1968, health problems would lead Hess to leave the group, with McSpadden following. Hess would surrender the management of the group to Morales, Murray, and Moscheo, who led the group for the next decade into a new era of Christian music. Although they were only together for two years, Jake Hess & The Imperials cemented their place in the history of Gospel Music as one of the genres most talented groups. If you have this album in your collection, I highly recommend giving it a spin on the turntable once again.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Classic Album Review, be sure to leave a comment below!

 

CD Review: “Love So Amazing” by Shane Dunlap

EDITORS NOTE: Last year I had the privilege of doing an interview with Shane about this project, you can check it out here.

Shane Dunlap is one of the most talented vocalists to ever grace a stage in the history of Gospel Music.  From his days with N’Harmony, to his stint as the initial lead vocalist in Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, and The Trio (Kirk Talley & Anthony Burger), Shane has showcased his natural ability to many fans. After disbanding N’Harmony in their second formation, Dunlap started working in the local church, where he has spent the last 8 years serving as a music minister.

A year ago, Shane made the decision to record again, his first solo in over 10 years. Produced by Ricky Free, Love So Amazing is the result of Dunlap’s return to the studio.

shane-dunlapThe project kicks off with “He’s Making Me”, followed by “I’m Free”. Things slow down a bit with a powerful song, “Grace Keeps Reaching”. “Heaven In Your Heart” is another slower tune, that is also the projects first radio single. Shane is joined by Sonya Isaacs Yeary of The Isaacs, and she sings the second verse of the song.

“Glory Hallelujah” is an anthemic, uptempo song of praise. “Love So Amazing”, the title track, is a beautiful ballad that describes just how truly magnificent the love of God is, and Shane absolutely hits it out of the park.Just Believe” is a shuffling tune that inspires us to trust the Lord to make a way for us. “The Most Unlikely People” slows things down a bit, and tells a great story in the lyric of how God uses people we may never expect to do remarkable things. “Shaken” is a great song that’s one of my favorites. “He Loved Me Anyway” is a great song, with only piano accompaniment.

CONCLUSION

Dunlap’s versatility as a vocalist is on full display on Love So Amazing. While songs like “Grace Keeps Reaching”, “Glory Hallelujah”, “Just Believe” and “Shaken” are tunes you can imagine hearing on modern CCM radio, Shane still sings some SG friendly tunes, like “Heaven In Your Heart”, “He’s Making Me” and “He Loved Me Anyway”. There’s truly something for everyone musically on this project.

Vocally, I believe this is Shane’s finest work, he sounds better than ever and the song selection & lyrical content is phenomenal. And once again, kudos to the finest producer in SG, Ricky Free, for once again making a fresh project that sounds like nothing else in the industry today. Being a soloist and holding someone’s attention on a recording is a tall task, but Love So Amazing did it for me. It is by far the best solo project I’ve heard in a long time, I highly recommend this project!

You can find Love So Amazing on iTunes or you can order a physical copy directly from Shane on his website here. To hear for yourself, check out the CD Preview video below.

Rating: 5 Stars

Review copy NOT provided.

 

News & Notes for April 26th

News

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Allegiance Trio L-R Jake Sammons, Kasey Kemp, Heath Pannell

Allegiance Trio announced the addition Heath Pannell as their new tenor singer. Pannell joins the group, replacing TJ Evans. Pannell, 32, is a native of Ripley, MS. Heath’s first performance with Allegiance was on the Praise The Lord program on TBN hosted by David Rives. Allegiance joined David Rives as well as Bass Singer Gene McDonald, Cheri Keaggy and Pastor Ben Graham. Allegiance sang and discussed their upcoming “I WILL STAND TOUR” and Jake joined Pastor Ben Graham to talk about the upcoming “I Will Stand Movie.”

The Crossroads Music Group has announced that their online music store is closing, all of their recordings can be purchased digitally on iTunes. They have also announced all of their performance soundtracks can be purchased at their new website, http://www.crossroadsperformancetracks.com

We wish to express our condolences to the families of Gold City. The group was been dealing with the passing of Barbara Riley, wife of Tim and mother of Danny, passed away on April 20th. Just 2 days later, Sammy West, father of the groups bass vocalist Chris & and grandfather of sound engineer Dillan, passed away. Please pray for both the Riley & West families during this time of grieving.

In the wake of Mrs. Riley’s passing, here is a song that was dedicated to her on Gold City’s 1997 recording, “What A Great Lifestyle“. I hope you enjoy “Between Me And The Storm“.

 

 

 

CD Review: “Ransomed” by The Down East Boys

The Down East Boys have consistently been releasing quality projects, especially since they transitioned back to a quartet configuration several years ago. Although the group has endured some personnel changes, lead vocalist and group owner Ricky Carden has never failed to surround himself with talented individuals who have helped him put out great recordings. Ransomed, due to release This Friday,  March 18th, may very well be the best recording in the group’s history. Carden is joined by longtime baritone Daryl Paschal, while both tenor Steve Lixey and the group’s newest member, bass vocalist Rick Walls are making their mainline debuts.

image1The cd kicks off with one of many songs you’ll find on the project written or co-written by the great Dianne Wilkinson, “A Reason To Sing”. It’s a great quartet song with Ricky carrying the lead and some great group singing. But what really blew me away with this song is what they did with the bridge. Steve takes over and there’s some really tight harmony that is absolutely fantastic, the best I’ve ever heard the DEB sound. The pace picks up a bit with, “Somebody Left The Door Wide Open”.  Ricky is featured on the verses, and the song has a rockin’, bluesy feel with a choir backing up the group on the chorus. Next up is another great song, “I Still Remember”. Ricky is featured on another ballad, “The Song Of The Ransomed”. Next up is another uptempo number, “That’s What You Get For Loving Him”. Carden really shows off his versatility on the first half of the project, reminding us of what a talented vocalist he is in his own right. From smooth four part harmony to up tempo quartet songs and even powerful ballads, Ricky handles them all on this project and excels.

At the midway point of the project, tenor Steve Lixey steps up for a feature on a great song penned by Darryl Williams, “A Thief’s Paradise”. This song is different from anything you’ll hear on Ransomed because Steve is the only vocalist. It’s a gentle song, describing the thief on the cross who found forgiveness when he asked Jesus to “remember him when he came into his kingdom”, and Steve sings it superbly. Lixey has really come a long way vocally since joining the group, and his growth is on full display on Ransomed. He possesses a distinctive tenor voice that really makes him somebody Gospel Music fans need to listen to.

The seventh cut of the project, “One Way, One Door, One Name”, is the first radio single and features baritone Daryl. Paschal possesses one of the finest baritone voices in our genre, and does a great job on this cut. “That Wonderful Land” is another great quartet song about Heaven that features Ricky on the second verse. “The Cross Speaks Louder” is a nice ballad featuring Daryl, that reminds us that “the cross speaks louder than our sin“. “Now A Witness Am I” is another great uptempo quartet song from another great writer,  Regina Walden. Closing out the project is a great song written by Ray Scarbrough, “Pray”. Each member of the group is featured on the verses, and it’s a great song that encourages believers to “get down on their knees”. Aside from a few step out lines and a couple lines of the first verse of “Pray’, we don’t hear much from Rick Walls in terms of solos. But I must say I enjoyed Rick on this project, he sounds great in the group’s blend and seems to be a great fit.

I don’t hand out praise for everything I listen to, in fact it’s hard for me to listen to a cd all the way through without skipping a single song. But I didn’t have that problem with this project. Compared to their previous project, Beyond The Blue,  The Down East Boys have raised the bar for themselves with excellent song selection, great arrangements, and dynamic vocals, Ransomed is a great project that Quartet fans and Gospel Music lovers will enjoy. My only real critique is that I would have loved to have heard another song featuring the bass, balancing out the features. Irregardless, Ransomed is a great project and one of my favorites this year. I would also like to say kudos to the musicians at Crossroads Studios, they have been doing some great things musically and it’s a lot of fun to hear the arrangements that Jeff Collins has been coming up with lately.

To pick up your copy of Ransomed, visit the Down East Boys website here. You can also download your copy on iTunes

Brian’s Favorites – A Reason To Sing, That’s What You Get For Loving Him, A Thief’s Paradise, Pray

Rating – 4.5 out of 5 stars

Review copy provided by Crossroads Entertainment.

Video of The Week: Jon Epley Debuts with The Lefevre Quartet

As announced last week, The Lefevre Quartet welcomed new bass vocalist Jon Epley to their group.  Epley joins a very talented group, comprised of father and son duo Mike & Jordan Lefevre at lead and baritone respectively, powerhouse tenor Jeremy Peace, and pianist Michael Lott. 

The group posted the following video to their Facebook page to give their fans a taste of their blend with Epley.  Give it a listen and let us know your thoughts!

Jon Epley Departs The Ball Brothers, Joins Lefevre Quartet

21303_912944842083720_787004317313100336_nThe Lefevre Quartet have announced their new bass vocalist will be Jon Epley. Epley replaces Brandon Berry who left the group a few weeks prior. Epley first came to prominence as the baritone for Statement of Faith, a trio with brothers Jacob & Joe Kitson, and The Inspirations. Epley moved from baritone to bass, to fill the void left by Mike Holcomb. Epley left the Inspirations to join the Ball Brothers in early 2015, and did a remarkably good job there. Epley joins a great lineup already with tenor Jeremy Peace and the father & son combo of Jordan (lead) and Mike (baritone) Lefevre, along with pianist Michael Lott.

Group owner Mike Lefevre issued the following statement in a press release, “We are thrilled to have Jon joining The LeFevre Quartet. He brings not only years of experience, but a beautiful bass voice and a sincere heart for God.

Jon issued the following statement about joining the Lefevres, ” I am so excited to be joining The LeFevre Quartet. I have been a fan of Mike LeFevre for many years, and feel that joining the vocal lineup of Mike, Jordan, and Jeremy can yield great things for the glory of the Lord. The guys and their families have welcomed my wife Tiffany and myself with open arms, and that means the world to us! Their heart for the Lord, ministry, and family is an inspiration. We are looking forward to what is in store, and are extremely grateful for this opportunity.”

Meanwhile, The Ball Brothers issued the following statement regarding Epley’s departure.

We want to let everyone know that Jon Epley is leaving the Ball Brothers to join the LeFevre Quartet. We love Jon and Tiffany and want to thank them for the time that they spent with us. We’re sad to see them go, but want them to be where God wants them. Please go out and support Jon and the LeFevre Quartet. At this time, we are not soliciting auditions. We plan to announce a new bass vocalist soon.

God Bless,
Andrew, Daniel and Chad

Epley also commented on his time with the Ball Brothers, “In my time with The Ball Brothers, we went from being friends to brothers. The entire Ball family welcomed my wife and I into their hearts, and we will never forget that. The Ball Brothers took great care of my family and I. Although God is moving us to a different ministry, the Ball Brothers and the Ball Family will always have a special place in our hearts, and we will always count them dear friends. I learned a lot about music and about myself through my tenure with the group. There are big things happening now and upcoming in the Ball Brothers’ ministry, and I wish them all the success in the world. I encourage everyone to check their schedule and go see them any chance you get. To the guys I say this: Daniel, Andrew, Chad, I love you guys. We had some amazing times, and saw God do some great things. Thank you for everything. I’ll see you down the road.

Sincerely,
Jon Epley”

I’ll be completely honest and tell you that this move took me by surprise, I would have never imagined Epley to be a fit with The Lefevre Quartet, but anything can happen. Jon is without a doubt one of the most talented and versatile vocalists in our genre. I am very curious to see what the future holds for this lineup. Make sure you go see The Lefevre Quartet when they’re in your area, and welcome Jon to the group!

 

 

Guest Album Review – “Undivided” by Master’s Voice

 

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I first heard Master’s Voice several years ago at a convention in Michigan. The group was a trio at the time and I was very impressed by their sound. Shortly after hearing them, the group had a change in personnel and added lead vocalist Justin Morphis, formerly of 11th Hour. Last year, after baritone Joey Johnson departed, the group made the transition to a quartet with the addition of baritone Stan Watson (Paul’s Journey), and bass singer Jerry Pilgrim (Old Time Gospel Hour Quartet). Undivided is their first mainline release as a quartet and the first quartet release of 2016. I’ve asked my friend Brandon Coomer of Coomer’s Cove to share with us his thoughts on this new project. Check it out!

Master’s Voice has been together over a decade but their latest recording effort is their best to date. They could not have picked a better time to up their game, as this is their first recording on a national label. Undivided is outstanding from beginning to end, and that is being conservative.
Lead singer Justin Morphis gets the majority of features and his huge voice is definitely the standout. He is featured on everything from a big ballad (“This Same Jesus”) to a fun, catchy, bluesy song (“Goodbye To Goodbye”) and he shines on them all. Justin has a powerful voice, and at times, I worried he would over sing a lyric, but that never happened on this recording.  One of his features, “Here I Am Again,” is one of the best cuts on the project.
Owner and tenor Ricky Capps only gets a couple of features but one of those (“Somebody Is Me”) is my favorite up tempo song on the project. The chorus tells of several things somebody should do in a church service (shed a tear, say amen, raise their hand, etc.) but turns it around at the end and says, “I pray today Somebody Is Me.”  As mentioned, it is a fast song, but that is a great message. How often in or around church do we hear, “Someone needs to do that. Let’s pray the Lord will send someone,” instead of doing something ourselves?
The group has two relatively new members in baritone Stan Watson and bass Jerry Pilgrim. Both made their debut with the group on a Hymns project late last year.  Pilgrim is the first bass singer in the group’s history, as they transitioned from a trio to a quartet last year.  Both have multiple strong features.
Stan is featured on the second verse of the project’s opening song, “I Can Hardly Wait to Fly,” the first radio single. The song is a safe choice to introduce the group to new fans on the radio. However, several other songs are stronger, including the Rachel McCutcheon penned “Ain’t It Good”, which features Stan on the first verse and Justin on the second.
Jerry’s bass voice is a tremendous addition to the group. He is featured one of the project’s strongest songs, “Lord Of Mercy.” That would have been my pick for the first radio single.  I love the mix on this song as it leaves Jerry’s vocal hot coming out of the verses and really grabs you. Jerry and Justin split the verses on the project’s final song, “Everything The Blood Touches Lives.”  The song is slow and uses “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power” as a bridge, but still feels too short. 
My one question concerning Undivided is if the second week of the year is too soon to declare a CD the best of the year?
EDITORS NOTE: Like Brandon, I really enjoyed Undivided and I highly recommend this project. From start to finish, this project has something for everyone. This recording was my introduction to Jerry Pilgrim and let me tell you, I was impressed. “Lord Of Mercy” is a song I put on repeat a lot, I also enjoyed Jerry’s other features on “I Know What He Did For Me” and “Everything The Blood Touches Lives“. I also loved “This Same Jesus” and “Send Somebody”, which feature Justin.
With the recent disbandment of quartet’s like The Old Paths, Driven Quartet, and Brian Free & Assurance‘s transition to a trio, Master’s Voice is a great quartet to step up and fill this void. These guys are worth hearing and Undivided is a great introduction to them. To order your copy of Undivided, you can purchase it from Master’s Voice web store or download it on iTunes.
Review copy provided by Crossroads Label Group.