CD Review: Cathedrals Family Reunion

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Cathedrals Family ReunionIt was a historic occasion: Five alumni of a group many consider the greatest Southern Gospel group of all time—the two living ’90s alumni and the three living late-80s alumni—gathered together for the first time to do a recording together. Which direction should they take?

Should they record the greatest hits—the ones they’d already recorded on their groups’ individual tribute projects, but for the first time together?

Should they record great songs from deeper in the Cathedrals’ vast repertoire that deserve another hearing?

Should they record new songs in the Cathedrals’ style or update the arrangements?

Should they record songs with just their voices? 

Should they add in one or all of the three bass singers regularly touring with these alumni—Matt Fouch, Pat Barker, and Paul Harkey, because it’s difficult to play tribute to a quartet without a bass part?

Should they do an extended-family choir with all the current members of the groups that they currently tour with?

Should they incorporate old recordings of the three longest-running alumni—Glen Payne (36 years), George Younce (35 years), and Roger Bennett (18 years)—all of whom have passed away?

For better or worse, the answer they selected was “all of the above.” There are some songs with just their five voices, plus a bass singer. There are songs with a full male-voice choir with the voices of other members of Legacy Five, Greater Vision, the Mark Trammell Quartet, and Ernie Haase & Signature Sound joining the alumni. Glen Payne’s, George Younce’s, and Roger Bennett’s voices are also incorporated, courtesy of technology (on “I’ve Read the Back of the Book,” for Roger, and “Search Me, O God” for Glen and George). Each of the bass singers gets at least a few step-out lines; Pat Barker fans will be delighted to hear him nail the project’s most prominent bass solo, “Wedding Music.”

Some songs, like “Champion of Love,” “Oh, What a Savior,” “Wedding Music,” and “Somebody Touched Me,” are among the defining songs of their respective Cathedrals lineups. “We Shall Be Caught Up,” “O Come Along,” and “Blood-Washed Band” are welcome finds from a little deeper in the catalog.

Arrangements generally stay relatively close to the originals. “Yesterday” and “Blood-Washed Band” are both a little more orchestrated than the original performances. But it’s not distracting, because they’re no more fully orchestrated than quite a few of the Cathedrals’ own songs of the 80s and 90s were. It’s easy to imagine that an actual Cathedrals re-cut of either song in, say, 1995 would have sounded exactly like these. It made particular sense to update the arrangement on “Yesterday,” since it’s the oldest Cathedrals song revisited, and the only one from the ’70s.

Cathedrals Family Reunion succeeds in having something for everyone. For the most casual of fans, who don’t have any of the previous tribute projects, it contains a number of the all-time biggest hits. (Including this approach does make sense. Since this is released on StowTown records and has the marketing power of Provident behind it, it will undoubtedly reach many bookstore customers who do not have the other tribute projects.)

For more active fans who have the other tribute projects, it also has several tracks making it worth purchasing. But for active fans, it is perhaps less a full-course menu and more of an appetizer for what the future could hold.

What could this future hold? Well, take a look at the songs these alumni were singing at the reunion event earlier this month. One user posted five videos, “Movin’ Up to Gloryland,” “Into His Presence,” “Whosoever Will,” and two absolutely show-stopping performances in “Thanks to Calvary” and “What a Meeting.” None of these have been overdone; in fact, only “Movin’ Up to Gloryland” has appeared on a previous Cathedrals alumni tribute project. Could these songs be hints as to what we might see in the future? Could there be a Cathedrals Family Reunion 2?

One thing’s for sure: There will only be a chance at a volume 2 if this is a success. And the nice part about having something for everyone is this: It doesn’t matter what you’re looking for from a Cathedrals tribute project; there will be something here for you.

Traditional or Progressive: Traditional to middle-of-the-road.

Credits: This review was based off of a digital edition and, as usual, credits are only available in the hard copies. (Review copy not provided.) 

Song List (songwriters in parentheses): Blood-Washed Band; We Shall Be Caught Up; Wedding Music; We’ll Work; O Come Along; I’ve Read the Back of the Book; Yesterday; Can He, Could He, Would He?; Oh, What a Savior; He Made a Change; Somebody Touched Me; Search Me, O God; Champion of Love.


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26 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. Great Project!! On the song “We Shall Be Caught Up”, the first time you hear Paul Harkey’s step-out line it sounds just like George. The guys did a great job on this project I hope they will do another one.

  2. It saddens me to not see Kirk Talley included in this project, who was a part of the Cathedrals history. Was he asked?

    • Kirk recently posted on his Facebook page: “Vocally I am having trouble. I was diagnosed with Abductor Spasmodic Dysphonia and that has caused it to be very difficult to sing, and some days, even talk. Thanks for your prayers concerning that.”

      • Yes, I received that email, too. I was concerned about him, as it had been a long time sine he had sent out an email. When I went to his Web Page, there was nothing there except for his picture. I hope things work out for him.

  3. I won’t belabor the Kirk Talley omission (or did I just do that), but it seems Step Into The Water should have been a top contender as it was their breakout hit. Maybe because it is so closely associated with Kirk. Perhaps if they do move toward a volume 2 and more time has past since the scandal, they’d consider bringing back Kirk…or Kurt Young (jk)! I wonder what ever happened to him?

    • It’s been 10 years. How much more time is needed?

      • He has commented publicly that, at least for the time being, his voice is not up to the task of singing the parts he used to sing, and that he would not be able to do what he would be expected to do in that sort of setting.

        There have been a few singers in Southern Gospel’s history – tenors in particular – who have hit a point where their voice is definitely not what it once was. Some tenors go on stage anyhow; others don’t, so that we remember them at their vocal peak.

  4. Just curious, did the young man from India by way of Scotland (or wherever he hails from now) who won their video entry contest perform with them? There is a composite video – better quality – on YouTube now, though he isn’t in that either.

  5. “There have been a few singers in Southern Gospel’s history – tenors in particular – who have hit a point where their voice is definitely not what it once was. Some tenors go on stage anyhow; others don’t, so that we remember them at their vocal peak.” Well said Daniel. You could also add some of the other parts also.

    • Yes, I could; there have been a few lead singers and a few bass singers that I can think of – and, for whatever reason, not a single baritone that comes to mind.

      • I think it’s because SG is pretty hard on the guys & gals who have to hit the “Money Notes” night after night.

        The Baritone part is in that range where the notes are relatively easy to hit, and not much power is required on a consistent basis. (unless you sing for Brian Free) 🙂

        One AWESOME Lead comes to mind who continues to sing his Signature Song in the original key, although he can no longer hit the notes.

  6. Maybe they will do “Homeland” on Vol. 2, if there is a Vol.2!

  7. Great review, Daniel!

    For the record, I don’t think Greater Vision has recorded a “tribute” project of old Cathedrals’ songs… or maybe we have and I just don’t remember it. 🙂

    • This one comes close….(* appeared on a Cathedral Qt. recording (12 songs)

      1993 20 Inspirational Favorites (Riversong Records): While Endless Ages Roll; *Master Builder; *Daystar; I’m Persuaded To Believe; *What A Meeting; *Do Right And Come Smiling Thru; *Sin Will Take You Farther; *The Land Of Living; Jesus Is Here; *Champion Of Love; Well Done My Child; I Will Trade The Old Cross; *Homeland; *He Saw What I Could Be; Sheltered In The Arms Of God; *Have You Visited Heaven Lately; Living By Faith; *Going Home; *Scars And Stripes; Chorus Medley. (Wolfe, Allman, Trammell).

      • Yes, I was thinking of the one Austin mentioned, which was mostly though not exclusively Cathedrals songs. I should’ve been more clear!

      • Great recording, but not hardly a “tribute” CD.

      • OK!

  8. They did include one of Kirk’s songs on the CD. I don’t know any of the guys personally so I hate to say anything at all…but if there were any hard feelings with Kirk, it seems that they could have picked another song to replace the one they recorded. Although songwriting royalties aren’t much, I’m pretty sure this CD should have above average sales over most SG recordings. He may not be on stage but it does seem he was included and will get some benefit from the reunion taking place.

    • There are actually two of Kirk’s songs: “We Shall Be Caught Up” and “Wedding Music”.

      • That’s right, Brian! Everybody knows both Kirk’s writing and singing were a very important part of the Cathedrals’ success in the early 1980s. The first Number One song he wrote for them was “Step Into The Water.” Later, he and Phil Cross wrote “Wedding Music,” and the Cathedrals’ opened their concerts with it for the last ten years they were on the road.

        I’m hoping the live version of “Step Into The Water” we did in Ft. Worth will someday end up on a DVD.

  9. Great review Daniel. I have never done anything musically that I am more proud of than this project and the concert weekend. The highlight of my life!!

    • You should be proud of it! 🙂

    • And you nailed it, Pat!

  10. Here is another video link that I took that has multiple clips. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2cp4YqvbRs

  11. I enjoyed all the tenors, it would be good to see Kurt Young.