CD Review: “Sounds of Sunday” (Dixie Echoes)
Most groups use studio musicians on their recordings instead of group members, because the cost of paying for studio time makes paying someone whose skill is a technically perfect first or second take a financial necessity. However, the Dixie Echoes own their own recording studio, Echo Sound, and this frees them to use group musicians and take as long as it takes to get it right.
Only one musician on this project is not a Dixie Echoes member; that musician, David Johnson, played several assorted instruments on the project. Group pianist Stewart Varnado played the piano and organ. Baritone singer Randy “Scoot” Shelnut, Jr., played bass guitar and drums. Lead singer Randy Shelnut, Sr. played guitars.
The project starts with a classic four-part harmony song, “If Jesus is There.” This song captures the style of the project quite well.
The second song, “Up to the House of Prayer,” was written by Buford Abner, who was one of the original members of the Suwannee River Boys in 1938 and remained a main player in the group for years. The song was also done by the LeFevres / Rex Nelon Singers, but has not to my knowledge been staged by a quartet in decades. They had to go far back into the archives to find this one!
When a quartet that has been on the road for nearly fifty years records a project of classic songs, you would expect that they would have previously recorded several of the songs. But it appears that the only song they previously recorded was the third song on the project, “Praise the Name of God.” The song was written by Shirley Shelnut and was originally recorded by her husband Dale Shelnut on the Dixie Echoes’ 1966 record Echoing! Shirley’s son Randy Shelnut, Sr. and grandson Randy Shelnut, Jr. take the leads on the new rendition.
An earlier reviewer of this project stated his opinion that while the project was an enjoyable listen, no song stood out from the rest as an obvious radio single. Be that as it may, the song for which I have most frequently hit the repeat button is the fourth song, “I Won’t Have to Worry Anymore.”
Scoot Shelnut takes the solo on the first verse; tenor Dallas Rogers sings the second. After hearing this song, I will definitely join those who compare Rogers’ voice to that of longtime Inspirations tenor Archie Watkins. Rogers’ solo on this song (and his other solos on the project) are quite reminiscent of a younger Watkins in peak voice. In fact, the rendition of the song itself is quite similar to Watkins’ rendition on the 1972 Inspirations album Old-Time Singing. Although I typically quietly listen to and analyze an album, especially when I listen to it the first time, I couldn’t help but laughing out loud in amazement at the similarities between Rogers’ and Watkins’ voices.
The fifth song on the project, “Welcome Home My Child,” is a song the Dixie Echoes have performed several times at recent National Quartet Conventions. In fact, they have performed it often enough that I had assumed that they must have recorded it fairly recently. But to the best I can ascertain, this is the group’s first time to record the song.
The first half of this project features songs that have solo lines for multiple quartet members at various points in the song. On the second half of the project, each group member is featured on one song.
Scoot Shelnut is featured on the sixth song, the classic Lee Roy Abernathy tune “New Born Feeling.”
Randy Shelnut, Sr., has the solo on the seventh song, “The Last Mile of the Way.”
Tracy Crouch sings “Ole Brother Noah,” hitting a low B-flat at one point. (This is the lowest note he has hit in the studio, a half-step below his low B on “Roll Away Troubled River.”)
Dallas Rogers is featured on “If We Never Meet Again.” The comparisons to Watkins’ voice and style again suggest themselves on this song.
The project concludes with “After the Sunrise,” an old Stamps-Baxter Song frequently associated with the Chuck Wagon Gang. Each member is featured at some point in the song.
In large part since it is a table project, this CD probably won’t win any awards or spawn any top 10 radio hits, but devotees of traditional quartet singing will definitely appreciate this solid addition to the Dixie Echoes catalog.