CD Review: The Journey (Liberty Quartet)

journey-cover-web2My journey with Liberty Quartet started several years ago, when I started hearing good things about them from a number of west coast friends (particularly John S. in California and Elysse B. in Idaho). At the time, I chalked up the rave reviews to local pride. So when I met them at NQC 2007, and they gave me a copy of their hymns CD,I politely thanked them, and promptly put it in my stack of CDs to review . . . at the very bottom. It ended up being December 2007 before I got to that CD—and promptly gave it a five-star review (here).

But no matter their talent level (or if they are full time), it’s not easy for a group that is literally off the beaten path to attract top-notch songs from top-notch songwriters. Between producer Phil Cross and then-baritone/pianist Doran Ritchey, they managed to come up with a number of strong songs on each project, but not enough to equal that five-star rating.

Until now.

The Journey proves that creative and progressive don’t have to be synonyms in the Southern Gospel thesaurus. Instead of relying on soundtracks to create a fresh sound, Liberty does it with their vocal arrangements. When was the last time you heard someone put a fresh spin on “He Came Down to My Level?”

The project starts out with the title track, easily one of its most memorable songs. The song is kicked off by an “almost exotic” drum solo (hat tip, Aaron Swain [EDIT, 2/22/13: Broken link removed]), before piano and orchestra kick in to carry this uptempo track along.

Nine of the twelve tracks are new songs. Besides “He Came Down to My Level,” the other two classic tracks are “Till There Was Jesus” by W. Elmo Mercer and “Welcome to Heaven” by Phil Cross & Carolyn Cross English. The latter track is a straight-ahead big ballad featuring lead singer Dan Gilbert that isn’t remarkably different from the Singing Americans original. But in this case the old adage “if it ain’t broken don’t fix it” applies, and it should be a concert favorite for the group.

For a second straight recording, Liberty Quartet and a major east coast group both simultaneously cut a Rodney Griffin song. With Amazed and Triumphant Quartet’s Everyday, it was “Amazed at the Change.” For this project, Liberty and Tribute Quartet both cut “I Love Living In Grace.”

Former Liberty Quartet baritone / pianist Doran Ritchey was still a part of the group during the recording process; he contributed five of the project’s songs and did a guest solo on “The Welcome.” He has since left to be a part of Phil Cross’ musical endeavors (including the group “Crossing”), but hopefully he will continue to send some of his best tunes to Liberty.

This project introduces new Liberty Quartet baritone Jordan Cragun (who, as has been mentioned before, is Kim Collingsworths’ nephew). He is featured on “I Made it Mine” and “In the Day of the Lord.”

Keith Waggoner unfortunately only had one solo, on “He Came to Me.” Bass and manager Royce Mitchell is featured on three, “He Came Down to My Level,” “Till There Was Jesus,” and “Too Long.”

Lyrics are included in the CD booklet. One would think this would be default in a lyric-driven genre, but unfortunately, it’s not, so it’s worthy of mention.

This project easily earns Liberty Quartet another 5-star rating—their second on this site, and first for a recording of new songs.

Rather than just write about it, though, I have received permission from the group to feature several tracks in the flash player for the month. So , for the remainder of this month, enjoy “The Journey,” “In The Day of Our Lord” (featuring Jordan Cragun), “God Made a Way” (featuring Dan Gilbert), and “Till There was Jesus” (featuring Royce Mitchell).

Rating: 5 stars. ♦ Average song rating: 4.33 stars. ♦ Group members: Keith Waggoner (tenor), Dan Gilbert (lead), Jordan Cragun (baritone), Royce Mitchell (bass). ♦ Produced by: Doran Ritchey, Phil Cross, Roger Talley. ♦ Available from: Group. Review copy provided. ♦ Song list: The Journey; He Came Down To My Level; I Made it Mine; I Love Living in Grace; Till There Was Jesus; God Made a Way; He Came to Me; The Welcome; Too Long; He’ll Come Through; In the Day of the Lord; Welcome to Heaven.

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19 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. Haven’t gotten my hands on the product yet, but Liberty Quartet is due all of the notice that the genre can provide. They’ve been, and continue to be, solid singers and men of reliable integrity. It’s just too bad that the SG world doesn’t actively follow these men.

    Thanks for a dignified and positive review of a project that I shall soon seek.

    • I hadn’t known you were familiar with their music. I’m encouraged to see you speak favorably of them!

  2. Well, Daniel, I knew I was right about this young quartet! I saw them for the first time at an NQC showcase and was SO impressed…and they did a great song on our Song of a Lifetime showcase that one of the group members wrote. I made my way to their booth to meet them, and I can see that you agree with me (don’t we always!) about their recordings as well. It thrills my soul when I hear the young quartets carrying on the great tradition of the quartets I grew up listening to, and it lets me know “quartet singing” will go on till Jesus comes. Liberty Quartet, Di has some songs with your name on them!!!

    • This comment made my day. 🙂

  3. As usual, Neil is “spot on” in his observations.

    And it’s heartening(but by no means surprising)that Dianne Wilkinson shares our enthusiasm for the music of these fine musical ministers.

    It wasn’t mere “local pride” that caused me to shout their praises and recommend them highly to anyone loving good ol’ quartet music and also fans of singers who live what they sing about.

    I got my copy of “The Journey” just last week, and it is yet another example of the characteristics I’ve always valued most in gospel singers, i.e., excellent musical skill combined with an outstanding Christian witness….these are fine men in every way.

    And as I’ve been telling anyone who will listen of late, they carry on that kind of Christian music heritage that Neil’s Couriers established many years ago.

    Guys, if any of you are reading this, did you see what Dianne said? Jump on those songs, and record them! It’s not every day that a songwriter of her caliber offers people material!

    I am just so proud that these men(who I count as good personal friends)are finally being noticed by a larger national audience…they deserve it!

  4. OK, I believed you when I read the review, but you really decided to prove it with the flash player, didn’t you! “Till There Was Jesus” is right down my alley.

  5. “He’ll Come Through” and “I Made It Mine” are my favorite cuts. I was very impressed with several songs from this group! Thanks again, Daniel. 🙂

  6. Amen to Liberty jumping on Mrs. Dianne’s songs! She is undoubtedly one of the best song writers in southern gospel history! Thanks Mrs. Dianne for all that you do to help promote the genre! Thank you for sending our quartet some of your music as well! I am definitely going to have to check out Liberty Quartet. I have not heard very much on the radio about them but Daniel speaks very highly of them and if Daniel thinks they are great, that is good enough for me! Definitely going to be checking them out!

    • …and of course, you can always start with the four songs you can listen to for free in the sidebar here. 🙂

      • …and you can find their older and newer music on All Quartets Radio on the internet as well!

      • Really? Neat! I don’t listen to AQR much since I already have so much of the music they play, but that is neat to hear.

      • I remember hearing them quite a bit when I used to listen to it regularly, but I didn’t have speakers good enough for it to catch my attention. I am thinking about trying to catch some more of them again.

  7. Actually, I haven’t listened to them a whole lot, but have liked what I have heard so far. Thanks for the great review, Daniel! I will be purchasing this CD as a result, which I would have ordinarily not done.

  8. Just thought I would try to find this on iTunes. Amazed is there … it would be good to see this one too!

  9. I am NO Dianne Wilkinson by any means, but was very excited to hear Liberty Quartet’s take on “He Came to Me.” I am honored to have a song on this project. Especially after hearing it in its entirety. Thanks guys, for your ministry. As a writer in California I know the struggle of being off the beaten path in this great genre. God is using you for mighty things for His glory and our good.

    Thanks for your review, Daniel.

    • Congratulations on the Liberty cut! It’s a nice song, and couldn’t have found a place on a better Liberty CD than this one!

      • Thanks, Daniel! Now, if Dianne Wilkinson was only interested in mentoring another “green” songwriter…. 😉

      • Every songwriter’s dream! 🙂