4 Essential Brian Free & Assurance Albums

Live in New York City - Brian Free & AssuranceThe Essential Albums column highlights the albums every Southern Gospel fan should add to their collections.

  • 2005: Live in New York City. Yes, this album gave us “Long As I Got King Jesus.” But it’s about far more than just that hit. It’s the pinnacle of the group’s run as a traditional Southern Gospel quartet. In recent years, they have moved to a progressive Southern Gospel sound. Live in New York City proves that they moved because they wanted to, not because they had to. This album is easily among the top three or five live albums released in the 2000s, and it may head the list. Radio singles “Healed” and “Long as I Got King Jesus” deserved all the attention they got. But “Goodness and Mercy” is every bit the power ballad “Healed” is, while “Foundation Medley” is as spine-chillingly riveting, in its own way, as “Long as I Got King Jesus.” Top it off with the definitive live rendition of Brian Free’s signature song, “For God So Loved,” and you have the group’s strongest album to date.
  • 2010: Never Walk Alone. The group’s fourth progressive album solved the over-compression issues that had plagued the first three. Add that to the strong roster of songs they picked, and you have their strongest studio album. For more on the album, check out our November 2010 review.
  • 1998: Doing This For You. Brian Free & Assurance launched in 1993 and disbanded five years later, in 1998. (Brian put together a new group with the same name two years later.) Granted, Doing This For You doesn’t have one particular song that is as huge as their 1996 hit “For God So Loved.” But the album is stronger as a whole, and the best pick to represent the group’s first run. It opens and closes with acapella tracks. Though the first half of the album is fairly average, the second half has what may be the strongest five-song sequence on any Brian Free & Assurance album. “Who is This King” was later memorably covered by “Mercy’s Mark,” and “What a Difference a Day Makes” was covered by both Ernie Haase and HisSong. “Gone at Last” and “So We Could Become Like Him” are two forgotten gems that deserve to be brought back.
  • 2009: Worth It. The top three picks were the most obvious. Worth It is less obvious, but with songs like “There is a Kingdom Coming,” “Die Another Day,” “Worth It,” and “I Am Redeemed,” it’s deserving. For more about the album, check out our May 2009 review.

Do you agree with the list? If you could only own—or only introduce a friend to the group with—four Brian Free & Assurance albums, which would they be?

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34 Letters to the Editor

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  1. I have purchased six BF&A projects over the years and very much like Free’s ensemble singing. He puts together solid quartets. Shivers is worth everything Free pays him – and lots more. However, I really DO NOT like to hear Brian Free sing solo. Not even solo features as part of a quartet song…

    I say all that to say this – Goodness & Mercy is one of those songs that has a tremendous message and likely should have been singled. They sing it better than probably any other group could, but I think it has not been heard by enough people. Perhaps someone should cover it.

    Not sure who wrote it, but shop it again…


    • I completely agree that someone should cover “Goodness and Mercy.” In fact, maybe they should bring it back!

  2. I’m suprised Worth It made top 4. It’s probably my least favorite as it is too overproduced. I’d replace it with It’s So Good!

    • That one made it on the strength of the songs, which I think were overall stronger than the songs on It’s So God. At the same time, in the #4 slot, it’ll be the first to get bumped the next time they do an incredible project!

  3. Interesting topic, Daniel.

    My list is a bit different from your own. My two favorite BF&A projects are 1995’s Things That Last Forever and 2006’s It’s So God. The former project wouldn’t be useful in introducing someone to the group now, but it is one of my all time favorite recordings. The later recording really began the group’s shift into more progressive territory.

    My #3 would be 2010’s Never Walk Alone. Ricky Free did an awesome job handling the recording and as you mentioned, correcting the over-compression issues they had been having (and ruined Worth It, as far as I’m concerned).

    I’m not so sure on #4, but right now I’d go with Real Faith. It had some of the compression issues, but I could live with those. It also served as the current lineup’s debut together.

    • So it sounds like, at least from your #2, that your list is at least somewhat personal favorites. Which three/four would you pick to introduce someone to the group – as they are today, and as they were?

      (By the way: Coming next week: Mark Trammell Trio/Quartet!)

      • If the only purpose is to introduce someone to the group as they are today and as they were, I’d replace Things That Last Forever with Timeless Hymns & Classics, Vol. 2 and keep the other three I mentioned. That would show that although their new material is more progressive, the group can still pull off southern gospel standards.

        I know that the 1995 project would not do a good job introducing someone to the group, but if I had to give away all but two of my BF&A recordings, that would be one that I held on to.

      • OK, fair enough! 🙂

  4. Being a lifelong fan of our genre, and having collected several thousand SOGO tracks, I do not own a single BF&A album. I have a handfull of tracks belonging to them collected from distributed compilation albums but no full albums. Because of that, and because of this column, I think I have just added four albums to my “To Buy” list. I really enjoy BF&A live, so it seems natural pick up these albums.

    Thanks, Daniel.

  5. I haven’t followed them very closely over the years, in fact, I haven’t seen them in concert since Bob Caldwell sang Bass with them!

    However, via watching the NQC webcast, I VERY much enjoyed “Save me a seat at the table.”

    • That’s probably a good thing. You might either bump into them, cause an accident or fall (depending if they are on the bus or not) and you might even be the recipient of a restraining order eventually. 😉

      • Don’t quit your job to be the next Mark Lowry 🙂 LOL

    • “Save me a Seat” is quite possibly my all-time favorite of all the songs they’ve ever cut, though “Never Walk Alone” isn’t too far behind.

      • Did you see them (Jeremy Liles) do it a couple of years ago @ NQC after his father had passed that week? It moved me to tears.
        It was refreshing to see the other guys in the group support him after he broke down at the end of the song.

      • I was in the vendors’ hall at that point, but I heard it over the loudspeakers. I saw it on video later. Of all the moments that have happened when I was on site but not in Freedom Hall, that may well be the one I most regret missing.

  6. When you say “essential” I take that as much different than what you would use to introduce a new person to the group. To introduce a new person, I would just take the latest CD of whoever it is – even that is a challenge for some groups . . .

    When you say essential, I take that to mean more of a personal preference. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of my own. As a general rule, I normally prefer the table projects over the mainline ones – I like the simpler instrumentation as a general rule, so that naturally will factor into my thinking.

    I’d have to say #1 and #2 for me would be Hymns and Classics 2 and Hymns and Classics 1, in that order. To me they are some of my favorite projects of this type. Next I would probably put Never Walk Alone, probably on the strength of “I Believe”, my favorite Brian Free & Assurance song ever. My last 2 would probably be 4 God So Loved and At Your Request. The last one is another table project, but I put these 2 in the top 5 because those are the ones that I have listened to more than any of the others over the years.

    • I do think it is reasonable to introduce someone to a group with an incredible CD featuring previous members.

  7. Your article is spot on.

    Brian has to his credit put progressive southern(?) gospel or southern gospel on the map in large ways. I know with out a doubt he helps to bring in the youngsters. Something that we need.
    God Bless Brian and the Guys for all they do.

  8. As a long-time BF&A fan, I have enjoyed every one of their last 5 or 6 mainline albums, dating back to “Greater Still.” “Real Faith” was over-processed, but I thought “Worth It” was one of their strongest albums they have ever recorded. This is due in large part to show stoppers like “You Must’ve Met Him,” and “There is a Kingdom Coming.”

    With Ricky Free at the helm, “Never Walk Alone” raised the standard in studio quartet harmony, especially in the modern-to-progressive stream. Come to think of it, their Acapella album and “It’s So God” are also worth a listen… 😀

  9. Nice list indeed. Although “Doing This For You” was a very solid CD, I thought “For God So Loved” was a perfect or near perfect recording.(Jesus Came Out Alive, For God So Loved, Seed Of Righteous) I don’t really think there was a weak song on that album. The other 3…hmmm let me think.. “Worth It”, “Real Faith”…. and I would go with either “Never Walk Alone” or that “Request” album Tony mentioned.

  10. _It’s So God_ and _Doing This For You_ are most technically satisfying CDs they’ve ever recorded, but _Live In New York City_ and _4 God So Loved_ made a greater historical impact.

    I’d pick the first two to show someone just how good they were and the last two to show what resonated the most with other fans.

  11. Tony Watson wrote:
    When you say “essential” I take that as much different than what you would use to introduce a new person to the group.
    – – – – –

    I agree we’re talking about two different animals.

    I don’t agree that “essential” is the same as personal preference, though. “Essential” would need to be the most popular recordings they’ve ever made. You have to own those in order to relate to the diehard BF&A fans who love them most.

    Personal preference would just be whatever you happen to enjoy regardless of production quality, song selection and technical issues. I’ve really enjoyed one or two CDs I’ve only rated at only 3 stars out of 5, and then there are some at 4 or 4 1/2 stars I barely notice now. What’s best on a technical level isn’t always what clicks on a personal enjoyment level.

    And then, yes, I do agree that to introduce a new fan to an existing group, it’s fairly crucial to give them a CD from the past couple of years. It’s not much of an introduction to a new fan if you say, “Well, here’s one of their CDs of what they used to sound like before all of them quit and these new guys joined.”

    • I don’t know, I just consider essential to be ones you really need to have in your collection (for whatever reason). So, it could be great songs, great performances etc. not necessarily the best technical one or the one that sold the best or charted the most. For instance, there are often songs on albums that I prefer much better than singles released to radio. So to me, the ones I enjoy the most are essential because I figure what I see in them and love about them are things others might as well.

      • Think of it in terms of Johnny Cash songs.

        If someone was putting together a CD titled The Essential Collection, then “Ring Of Fire,” “Man In Black,” “I Walk The Line,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and even some truly cheesy songs like “Jackson,” “One Piece At A Time” and “Boy Named Sue” would have to be included. Those were the songs that established and sustained his career, and are therefore necessary for understanding the full breadth of what he was all about.

        Now, most critics would probably agree his most moving work was the stuff he did with Rick Rubin from 1994 until his death in 2003.

        You couldn’t limit an “essential” collection to that last decade, though, even if it was his best and/or most personally satisfying body of work.

      • One element I factor into this and future posts in this series is representation from major eras. It would be unthinkable to do an essential Cathedrals post without one album each from the original, Tremble, Talley, Funderburk, and Haase eras. That’s five right there, so I suspect my essential Cathedrals list will be closer to 8 or 10! 🙂

      • But is that what Greatest Hits packages are for, David? :p By the way, couldn’t you have (for mine and Kyle’s sake) do Oak Ridge Boys? Then you could have said “Elvira”, “Bobbie Sue” etc. :p

  12. I love BFA. If I had to pick the 4 essential albums it would be timeless hymns and classics volume 1 and 2, worth it and never walk alone. Acapella was great too but its not a normal album

    • Do you have any familiarity with their older work?

    • I agree there’s more of a novelty aspect to an a cappella recording, but I wouldn’t let that stop me from including it if I thought it was their best. (I don’t, for the record.) I believe one of the top Gold City CDs of all time is an a cappella CD, though. This BF&A a cappella includes one or two of the same of the same arrangements.

      Any Christmas recording and to a lesser degree, a live recording, would be “not a normal” studio album. The format shouldn’t automatically exclude the CD from consideration. I would even consider the two BF&A hymns/classics projects you listed to be specialty recordings in that they are cover projects, but not the typical cheap quality table projects.

  13. Daniel, FYI- I purchased “Never Walk Alone” and “Worth It” Friday evening as a direct result of this post. Here’s hoping you continue to contribute to our genre in such an effective way in this new year and beyond. Thanks for all you do!

    • Jordan, thanks for your encouragement, and I hope you enjoy them!

  14. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, “Timeless Hymns and Classics, Volume 1.”

    Volume 2 doesn’t hold a candle to Volume 1. Although 2 is good, in it’s own way, 1 just has that “glossy” produced-to-perfection sound. Very few projects today, soundwise, compare to what Garry Jones did with Volume 1.
    Jones has his own sound. Like you can tell who is playing the piano on a groups’ recording, you can (if you pay attention) pick out recordings from different groups that have used the same producer. Anyway, Garry Jones has his own style that sets his creative work apart from others, his own signature, if you will.
    This album (volume 1) is a masterpeice, in my opinion. Must be labeled an “essential” for Brian Free & Assurance.