The subject of today’s classic album review is from a lineup that I was to my shame, unaware of until a few months ago.Whenever I thought of The Sound from Houston, Texas, the name that first came to mind for me & many others is
Scott Fowler (Cathedrals & Legacy Five). Mike Presnell (best known for his days with Perfect Heart) was the groups bass singer at that time, and later members also included included former L5 tenor, Frank Seamans. But what many, including me, did not know is that long before the days of Fowler & Presnell, there were 2 other well known & accomplished singers that helped establish the group.
Those two men were Pat Hoffmaster, former tenor for the legendary Blackwood Brothers Quartet on lead, and Rick Strickland on tenor, who was fresh from his tenure with the Singing Americans, and would later sing with the Kingdom Heirs & J.D. Sumner & The Stamps. The rest of the group was rounded out by Sean Riley on baritone, Jess Farmer on bass, and David Foster on piano, who also was their arranger. “The World Needs To Hear” was their first project, and was produced by the master maestro himself, the one & only Lari Goss.
A little history on the group reveals some interesting changes. When recording started on “The World Needs To Hear”, the lineup was Hoffmaster singing tenor, Kent Morrison on lead, with Foster supplying some baritone, and Farmer on bass. This lineup recorded 2 songs, before Riley would take over the baritone, and Strickland joined as the groups tenor, allowing Hoffmaster to sing lead.
The album starts with a great, uptempo quartet number “Blessed Shall You Be”. Hoffmaster carries the lead through the verses and first chorus, then Strickland takes over on the second chorus to the songs end. The group establishes a great, high harmony & tight vocals right off the bat, a preview of things to come throughout the album. The next cut “I Gave Up”, features Hoffmaster on the lead. Even though this is a totally 80’s song, it has a great jazzy feel, and Hoffmaster just kills it. The most recognizable song that this group recorded is the third song, “Here Comes The Bride”. Hoffmaster sings the first verse, Strickland the second, then each member sings a line of the third verse. The song ends with a powerful high ending, that is nothing short of breath taking. Both Hoffmaster & Strickland had such incredible ranges, producing the sky high lead & tree top tenor vocals, reminiscent of the Prophets (similar to that of Jay Berry or Roy McNeil & “Big Lew” Garrison”)
Next up is “I Got An Old Time Religion”. My first exposure to this song was through Perfect Heart, who recorded it on their 1992 release, “Looking For The Wounded” The Sound’s arrangement differs mainly, because of a great ragtime intro. This was one of the first songs recorded and features Kent Morrison on lead vocals, whp does a great job. Closing out Side 1 is “Bought By The King”. This song is nothing short of Awesome, with Farmer singing the first section of both verses, with Riley taking the second half of the 1st verse & Hoffmaster doing the same on the 2nd verse, and he knocks it out of the park. The ending of the song is absolutely powerful, with Strickland taking up the key change and intensity. The Kingdom Heirs would record this (with Strickland on tenor) on their “Live At Dollywood” project, but their arrangement doesn’t come close to the brilliance of this recording.
Side 2 begins with “I’m Gonna Be Ready”, a great uptempo features bass vocalist Farmer on the verses. Farmer does a nice job on the verses, and the group kills it on the chorus. Next up is, “Mender Of Broken Wings”. This was the other song recorded with Kent Morrison on lead, and a highlight of the recording featuring Hoffmaster. This song has been a favorite of mine for years (a regional group here in Michigan that I loved called Crimson sang this song and did a fantastic job). At the time of its recording, Hoffmaster’s cancer was in remission, so this song was very special to him. He sings this song with such feeling, and turns in an absolutely outstanding performance. If you’re a fan of Pat Hoffmaster or fantastic quartet singing, you must hear this song!
Following such a huge song is the toe tapping, quartet song, “We Shall Reign”. The group sings the first verse and chorus, with nice step out parts for Strickland & Hoffmaster. Next up is another great moving song, “Hill Of Hope”, featuring Riley on the verses, that talks about how Calvary offers hope for the lost & undone soul without Christ. There’s a key change and some great harmony on the tag. The recording closes with the lone Rick Strickland feature, “Let’s Cross Over To Jesus’ Side”. Strickland sings the verses with great feeling, and the group provides some great harmony on the chorus. Its a great song to close out the recording and extremely well done by the group.
I had read that some fans considered this album to be on the same level as The Singing Americans iconic “Black And White”. While that is a big statement to make, “The World Needs To Hear” was a fantastic album with great song selection, outstanding vocals and fabulous production. As for this lineup of The Sound, they didn’t last much longer. Hoffmaster, Strickland, and Foster would move to Nashville and continue as a trio called Exodus, with Steve Hurst (the vocal coach) on baritone. They released a Christmas EP, Cherish that is quite fantastic itself. Sadly, Hoffmaster would pass away in 1988. Although they were together briefly, “The World Needs To Hear” is an album that should be in the library of any true fan of Gospel Music.
My special thanks to David Foster for providing his invaluable insight & help for this article. I hope you’ve enjoyed this Classic Album Review!