It’s been a while since I’ve posted on a consistent basis, but I hope that all of you have enjoyed my recent activity lately. I plan on this being a recurring thing and blogging as much as I can. One of my favorite segments here on the blog is our Classic Album Review. On today’s edition, we’ll discuss an album that I’m sure of many of you have never heard from a group that flew under the radar of many Gospel Music fans. I have been working on this post for quite some time and I am so glad to finally be able to share this. Priority is a group that was formed in the early 80′ s, at Oklahoma Baptist Bible College by four friends, three of whom would continue to be the nucleus of the group (Scott Crawley, Brian Rose, Kurt Young).
Stylistically, Priority was not your typical Southern Gospel group, in fact Southern Gospel hadn’t even been on their radar. They were more along the lines of an inspirational group, heavily influenced by The Imperials. The group even took their name from the Imps 1980 release. They were signed by Impact Records (then a part of Benson) and mentored by the Imp’s then lead singer, Paul Smith. Their self-titled Impact release also featured a young Kirk Sullivan, who would go on to be a founding member of 4Him. But the group found itself drawn to Southern Gospel by way of The Singing Americans classic recordings “Live and Alive” and “Black and White“.
By the time the group began recording My Redeemer Lives in 1988, the group included Greg Gillette on baritone, with Crawley at lead, Young at tenor, and Rose at bass. My Redeemer Lives was the groups first project with Homeland Records, produced by then label President/Founder Bill Traylor and arranged by Lari Goss. If you have followed this blog for any length of time or have paid attention to my writing, you know my deep admiration for Goss’s work. He is one of the most brilliant minds in our genre. His touch is all over this album, musically speaking.
The project kicks off with a great Phil Cross tune, “Another Heaven Song that features lead singer Crawley on the verses. This is a fantastic toe tapper that gets up and goes. The next cut, Be Gone is a little bit of a different tune. The song features Gillette, Crawley and Young on the verses as well as step out lines for every member of the group.
The third cut is the project’s first ballad, The Lord Alone Is Worthy. A wonderful song of worship that is masterfully arranged by Goss and beautifully sang by Kurt Young.
For Young to be judged as a singer from a 4 month stint with The Cathedrals that did not properly showcase his ability as a vocalist is absolutely unfair, and when one listens to this project they can see why. Young was a brilliant tenor with more of a soulful voice, in the vein of a Steve Perry. When he was put in a position to sing songs that were suited for his voice, he was able to shine as he does so brilliantly on this recording. My Redeemer Lives rightly showcases the talent and ability of Kurt Young that Gospel Music fans should remember. The fourth cut on the project, It’s Still Written Today picks up the pace a bit and is the listeners introduction to bass vocalist, Brian Rose. Rose had a tone and a look reminiscent of Richard Sterban of The Oak Ridge Boys, and was an excellent soloist in his own right.
Holy of Holies is the fifth cut on the project and was released as a single to radio, written by Geron Davis (the writer of Holy Ground). In a recent interview, the project’s producer, Bill Traylor, told of when he first heard the demo of this song. “I was driving over to North Carolina, up in the mountains, on a Friday night at about nine o’ clock. I popped in a cassette of songs that I was listening to for Priority. When I came up to “Holy Of Holies”, I remember just flipping out. This was in the early days of cell phones, but I had one. I called the my fpublisher at home and told him to put that song on hold for Priority. It’s such an incredible, rich song, I still love it to this day.” Lead singer Scott Crawley shared an interesting account of the recording of the song. “We lived in Oklahoma at the time and had to drive to Nashville. I couldn’t talk, and I had to sing “Holy of Holies”. I slept that night underneath a vaporizer. I went into the studio that morning; I couldn’t talk but whenever it came to sing, I was able to sing. And as soon as I got done singing, I couldn’t speak. It was almost as though God performed that song.” When one listens to the song with this in mind, there is no doubt that Crawley’s performance is inspired and empowered. It also brought the group some industry attention, as it was nominated for a Dove Award in the Best Recorded Inspirational Song in 1990.
Another ballad kicks off the second half of the project, My Redeemer Lives, which was the title track. Another song written by Phil and Carolyn Cross, Young is once again showcased and shines brilliantly. The orchestration is superb and each modulation is done to perfection. The tempo picks back up with Jesus Is A Friend Of Mine which features Rose. The next cut, The Test of Time, was a song that was recorded by quite a few groups back in the 80’s, written by Savanna Foust. The Priority cut features Gillette, who turns in quite a soulful interpretation. The group tackles a cover of “Operator” that is fantastic. The arrangement starts out acapella and the band and Young kick the song up a notch into the first verse. This song showcases a side that Cathedrals fans have never heard of Kurt Young. Young is flat out ripping on this song, holding nothing back and doing whatever vocal moves he wanted. The recording closes with an absolutely fantastic arrangement of “Holy, Holy, Holy”.
This project truly had it all, fantastic song selection,solid arrangements, moving orchestrations and great vocal performances. So with a project this great, it makes the listener to wonder why many have never heard it? When I posed that question to Crawley, he stated, “We were definitely in a contemporary vein when it wasn’t really accepted within Southern Gospel. The only reason that album didn’t catch on and move was it was caught in a niche between Inspirational and Southern Gospel, and there really wasn’t a market for it yet.” This recording was truly ahead of its time. There’s no doubt in mind that if this project was to be released today, it would be one of the most popular recordings in 2014. The greatest testimony to a work by any artist is that it stands the test of time. My Redeemer Lives does just that, after 25 years it still is just as fantastic and moving as it was the day it was recorded on tape.
Although Priority would continue for several years, changes were rampant in the group and they were never quite able to keep the momentum of My Redeemer Lives going. The group recorded another project with Young, “Does Jesus Ever Cross Your Heart” (which was produced by Mark Trammell & Roger Talley). However, Young departed the group shortly after its release to join The Cathedrals. Rose & Crawley would continue on with lead singer Dale Forbes (Anchormen, Singing Americans) and tenor Terry Edwards to record another project, “Wake Up Church“. After his short stint with The Cats, Young would return to the group but they never truly recaptured the magic found on this recording. But even to this day, My Redeemer Lives is still a showcase of a versatile, young quartet that could sing any style and get the job done. I highly recommend tracking down a copy of this project, if you’re able. You won’t regret it! My special thanks to Scott Crawley and Bill Traylor for their invaluable insight and help in putting together this article. I hope you’ve enjoyed this Classic Album Review!