It 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.