Classic CD Review: Heaven (Gold City)

Heaven came out five years ago. Typically, that would be a little too soon to feature it in a classics column, but since it’s now two tenors, a lead singer, and two bass singers ago, perhaps it is time.

This was Gold City’s first recording after Tim Riley’s departure, and their only recording with Bill Lawrence. Let’s face it—Tim Riley was a legend, and nobody could be Tim Riley. It seems Lawrence picked up a bad rap in some quarters for who he wasn’t. But, as I’ve contended before, he was far better than he was given credit for. He could hold his own on vocals, pumping out solid low notes down to the lowest A-flat on the piano or lower. But his biggest strength was his stage presence; he conveyed through facial expressions and overall confidence that he was having the time of his life, and couldn’t be happier than to be singing to that night’s audience.

Of course, the rest of the vocal lineup on the record was indisputably top-notch; Steve Ladd sang tenor (this is back when he still sounded like Brian Free), Jonathan Wilburn was on lead, and Danny Riley was on baritone.

In song selection and execution, this recording is on par with any other Gold City table project (i.e., Camp Meeting, Havin’ Fun). Convention classics “My Non Stop Flight to Glory Land” and “Way Down Deep in My Soul” became concert staples for the group for several years. Steve Ladd showcased his versatility on a subdued ballad, “Without a Word.” Bill Lawrence turned in a strong rendition of “Wayfaring Stranger.” And the project opened and closed with strong uptempo tracks, “Heaven” and “I’ve Got a Feeling.”

This was their final project with a live band. The arrangements, made to be played by a band in a live concert setting, were more in line with previous Gold City projects than with their New Haven releases since.

This recording, as well as several other out-of-print and hard-to-find Gold City titles, is available from Christian Digital Downloads. (They provided a review digital copy for this review.)

Overall rating: 4.5 stars. ♦ Average song rating: 4. ♦ Song list: Heaven; Way Down Deep In My Soul; Without a Word; Well of Grace; My Hiding Place; Non Stop Flight to Glory Land; I’m Never Alone; Still Small Voice; Wayfaring Stranger; I’ve Got a Feeling. Personnel list: Steve Ladd, Jonathan Wilburn, Danny Riley, Bill Lawrence, [band].


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14 Letters to the Editor

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  1. Here’s a link to my review from five years ago: [EDIT, 6/7/12: Broken link removed.]

    I rated it 4 stars. As a table project of cover songs, it’s very good. I summarized it:
    “About the only thing missing from Heaven that you’d find on a full blown Gold City studio project like First Class is the touch of Steve Mauldin. Without his brass punctuated orchestrations, an expected piece of the Gold City sound is missing. This recording hangs together nicely from a conceptual point of view, though.”

    As it turns out, this was a sign of things to come. Gold City hasn’t gone back to the Steve Mauldin sound that served them so well for many years prior to recording _Heaven_.

    On a different topic…
    If you want to find examples of Bill Lawrence really shining, you need to go back to his years with Brian Free & Assurance. At that point in his career, he sounded like a serious candidate to replace Tim Riley. Once he joined Gold City, though, he lost some of his edge on the low notes.

    • DBM – That could be a result of limited studio time or other factors in the studio process. He was noticeably stronger in the one live video he did with them than on this CD.

  2. I always loved Bill Lawrence, and always said his stage presence was fantastic.

    “First Class” is a great dvd and showcases what Bill can do.

    The first SG concert I ever attended was Gold City and they had this lineup of Steve Ladd, Jonathan Wilburn, Danny Riley, Bill Lawrence and the band.

    They absolutely blew me away. I’ll never forget how Bill made my seat rattle.

  3. I may be wrong, but I thought that Bill was on the Gold City Christmas (Version 2) album also, or at least he was on some of the songs.

    • Didn’t they re-do it and put his voice on a few additional tracks? I don’t think there was ever a complete GC Christmas CD with his voice on all tracks.

  4. That was my understanding that Bill wasn’t on all the tracks, but like I said I may be wrong. (I have the album, but crazy me hasn’t listened to it yet). To go back to the original topic though, I really enjoyed Heaven….great album.

  5. Yeah, he is on some songs that were added to the original cd.

  6. I’ve always been a big Bill Lawrence fan. Unfortunately, whoever it was that replaced Tim Riley wasn’t going to be well received. Bill was the unfortunate one that got hired right after Riley retired.

    It’s happened with other groups too – most notably GVB when Buddy Mullins replaced Michael English and Russ Taff replaced Mark Lowry. Both were more than capable of filling the shoes of the individual before them. It just so happens that the fans weren’t willing to even let them try…

  7. I have loved that Heaven project since it came out. I still have some songs on it that I listen to frequently. Typically I like table projects better than the fully orchestrated ones anyway.

    • Sometimes I prefer the table projects and sometimes not. Just depends on the project. 🙂

      But overall . . . yes, I prefer this one to its predecessor and successor, First Class and Revival. First Class started and closed with incredible songs, “My Child Enter In” and “When He Blessed My Soul,” as good as anything on “Heaven.” But overall, I’d take “Heaven.”

  8. As far as Bill’s tenure with Brian Free and Assurance, I have to say that “Timeless Hymns and Classis” is a phenominal project.
    I’ve never heard anybody try to cover Bill’s rendition of “Blessed Assurance”. Too deep for most bass singers to comfortably lead.
    Bill’s track is a bit too mushy for my tastes, (may have been the studio engineer’s preference in eq’ing, not Bill’s “real” sound) but still, I respect the fact that he had the confidence to record it.
    Would have been neat if Tim Riley had covered this version on his solo CD, instead of having a different track. That would really be comparing “apples to apples”, as the saying goes.

  9. anybody know where to get the “heaven” CD project from? Very difficult to find. . I went to the link posted on the blog but no success. Any help is appreciated. Thanks!

  10. Anybody know where to pick up this “heaven” project from? Very difficult to find. I went to the link on the blog but no success. Any help is appreciated. Thanks!

  11. What ever happen to Bill Lawrence?