Ever since we saw the video that was posted on YouTube of this supergroup’s rendition of “Sweeter As The Days Go By”, Gospel Music fans have been salivating over the thought of a full album of material from Canton Junction. The boys will be releasing their debut project, a 20 song, 2 cd collection on September 4th. The group is comprised of Matthew Hagee singing tenor, Aaron Crabb at lead, producer extraordiaire Michael Sykes at baritone, and fan favorite Tim Duncan at bass. The group garnered alot of attention early, due to CJ being Duncan’s return to quartet singing. He spent 2 years away from the quartet scene, after 8 years with Ernie Haase & Signature Sound. Aaron is known from his tenure with his Crabb Family siblings, Sykes is known as one of the most innovative & inventive producers in Nashville, and Hagee (who co pastors Cornerstone Church in San Antonio with his father John). is a talented vocalist himself.
This recording could be described as Southern Gospel meets Praise & Worship, with a bluesy, country sound. The group recorded some SG standards, fresh material, and sprinkled in some pop standards. Strong harmonies and fresh vocal & musical arrangements are the trademark of this project. Lets review this debut album, track by track.
We kick things off with a cover of the classic “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now“, and it has a nice country flavor, with a little bit of a Texas swing feel. The song is 4 part harmony all the way through, with Sykes singing the melody up to the second verse, with features a stepout line from Duncan. Hagee takes over the melody, and the song closes with a nice powerful finish. “Show Me Your Way” , the next cut, is the first track to feature Aaron Crabb. It has a bluesy, R&B feel, and Crabb does an excellent job, not over-singing the song. “Heaven Is” is the first to feature Matthew Hagee, and he proves that he has no trouble holding his own with the other talent in this group. I’ve always admired Hagee’s voice, dating back to his days singing with his family.
The next song is a must hear! “The Son Shines Down On Me” is the first feature for Duncan. He sounds the smoothest I have ever heard him on this song, this is without a doubt one of his finest vocal performances to date. The group sings harmony on the chorus, and Hagee does a beautiful job carrying the lead. The 4 part harmony at the close of the song is just fantastic. If you only download one song from this album, it would have to be this! The next cut finds the group turning in a rendition of another Rusty Goodman classic, “Who Am I“. This arrangement is more bluesy, and features Crabb.
The second half of the recording starts with a Christmas song, “Go Tell It On The Mountain“. The verses feature Crabb on the first and Duncan & Hagee on the second. “Coming Home” is the only song to feature Sykes on lead. I really enjoyed this acoustic arrangement, with a nice keyboard touch and nice harmonies. “Softly And Tenderly” starts with a beautiful arrangement, and Hagee is featured on the 2nd verse. “The Inviting Christ” is the best example of Contemporary meets Southern Gospel. This song is perfect for the group, Crabb does a great job on the verses, and the harmony is fantastic. Volume 1 comes to a close with “My Saviors Love“, with great 4 part harmony.
The group did something cool by including the live recording of their first performance together to the classic, “Sweeter As The Days Go By“. Tim Duncan sings the fire out of the 2nd verse, then Hagee lifts the roof off. The next track “You Are So Beautiful To Me“, is one of the very few tracks I dislike on this project. Crabb takes the bluesy, soulful route here, singing the song through the first time by himself, then the group joins him the second time through. I’m just not crazy about this performance. The next cut, “What A Wonderful World” is the best of the pop covers, and features Duncan. The arrangement is excellent, and Duncan sounds so smooth throughout.
The next cut is a tune penned by & featuring Crabb, “Glorify“. The harmony on the chorus is awesome, but what kills this song is the repetition of the chorus. While some like it, some aren’t as fond of it. While it is a great arrangement, the repetition is what keeps this songs from being a must hear. Next is the classic, “Dig A Little Deeper In God’s Love“, which is pretty much the standard arrangement, with more of an edge. Next up is the Gaither classic, “Going Home“. Crabb & Duncan are featured on the verses.
Next up is the classic “Since Jesus Came Into My Heart“, which gets the country treatment. It gets the group treatment, with Crabb singing the melody, and Hagee taking over after the key change. The guys then tackle the Dottie Rambo penned “In The Valley He Restoreth My Soul“, with a great, soft arrangement, featuring Crabb. Next up is the first radio single, the Gerald Crabb penned “Hold On“. It’s a country, bluesy rocker, which features Crabb. The recording then closes with Hagee singing the final pop entry, “Smile“. He does a fantastic job, and the orchestration and light vocals, give it right feel.
There is no doubt that Canton Junction has the vocal talent to be in the upper echelon of Southern Gospel groups. Tim Duncan sounds the best I’ve ever heard him on this project, and Matthew Hagee is fantastic vocalist, Aaron Crabb is a capable vocalist and Michael Sykes is a solid baritone. While the project has some great moments, it also misses here and there for me as well. If you’re a fan of pure Southern Gospel, Volume 1 is right up your alley. If you like more of a progressive approach, Volume 2 would be your pick. If I were to rate this album, it would 8 out of 10.
My hope is that is just the beginning for these guys and more great music is on the way! You can purchase the album on Amazon here.
Review copy provided by Difference Media.