CD Review: The First 25 Years (Phil Cross and Friends)
Average Song Rating: 3.9 stars (of 5)
Song List: God is Good (with Crossing); The Only King (with Rebecca Peck); Yes Oh Yes (with the Crist Family); The Key (with Phil’s sons Brian and Gavin); Grace and Glory (with Mitchel Jon); Before You Knew How to Love Me (with Duane Allen); Champion of Love (with Legacy Five); Jesus Built a Bridge (with Tim Surrett); One Holy Lamb (with Terry Franklin); What You’ve Done For Me (with Elmer Cole); There’s No Such Thing (with Gerald Crabb); Saved to the Uttermost (with Crossing); Hold On (with the Talley Trio); Miracle in Me (with the Greenes); I Am Redeemed (with the Booth Brothers); Wedding Music (with the Kingdom Heirs); Yes I Am (with the Hoppers); When I Get Carried Away (with Dave McVay); Glorious City of God (with Karen Peck & New River); Welcome to Heaven (with Ivan Parker); Amazing Grace (with Phil’s parents).
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To commemorate his 25th year in Southern Gospel music, singer / songwriter Phil Cross assembled an all-star cast of Southern Gospel performers and recorded fresh versions of songs he has written over the years. On most of the tracks, he joins the guest group, trading off vocals and solos with that group’s members.
On a few of the tracks, the group that took the song to the top returns to reprise their performance. The Hoppers return for “Yes I Am;” Legacy Five features Scott Fowler on “Champion of Love.” (Though Gerald Wolfe was the Cathedral featured on the original and perhaps best remembered version of the song, Fowler was the featured vocalist for the final eight or nine years that the Cathedrals staged the song.)
Other tracks are re-imagined in fresh arrangements. “I Am Redeemed,” popularized by Poet Voices, is captured in a somewhat mellower yet brilliant rendition by the Booth Brothers. The Kingdom Heirs turn in a strong performance on “Wedding Music”; bass singer Jeff Chapman sings his verse with more melodic warmth than his frequently subterranean solos evince.
While those two are perhaps the album’s strongest home runs, other higlights are many. Karen Peck & New River turns in a strong rendition of “Glorious City of God.” Duane Allen sings a gentle and hauntingly beautiful rendition of “Before You Knew How to Love Me.” Terry Franklin turns in a rendition of “One Holy Lamb” memorable in large part for being the first I’ve heard where the tenor doesn’t sound like he was at the absolute limits of his range. Ivan Parker and Phil Cross trade dueling power lead lines on “Welcome to Heaven.”
The album has its tracks that don’t quite measure up to the original versions. But then, taking this many hit songs and trying to out-do the original version for each is an impossible task. Averaging my individual song ratings, I found myself with an average slightly under 4. But there are so many good renditions in this mix (four I individually rated 5 stars, ten more I rated four stars) that the album easily deserved to have its rating rounded up to four and a half stars. With this many good songs, this project’s listeners will certainly get their money’s worth.