Rating: 5 stars
Producers: Doran Ritchey, Phil Cross, & Roger Talley
Label: Crossline Records
1. The Journey - The first three seconds of this song are very interesting; there’s a drum solo here that sounds almost exotic. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this song, given that. The piano kicks in for a few seconds, and then a rich orchestra adds their sound. This beautiful ballad from the pen of Doran Ritchey and Jim Davis is a great way to both open up the project and give this CD a title. It seems to illustrate both the lives of the singers and the time span in which Liberty Quartet has been a group: “The journey is long, but His grace goes the distance.”
2. He Came Down To My Level - This song will be familiar to fans of the Gaither Vocal Band; it was recorded on their 1981 debut project, The New Gaither Vocal Band, and then re-recorded and upgraded in 1999 on their God Is Good CD.
Rather than wear an old hat, these guys take the song and do something quite different than any version I’ve heard before. They give it a flavor that I can only describe as “country-boogie” music, and they hand the features on the verses to bass vocalist Royce Mitchell. I always appreciate when a group takes a song that’s been done before and gives it a new twist, and this is no exception.
3. I Made It Mine - This country song about salvation features the group’s new baritone, Jordan Cragun. Cragun’s voice fits this style well; the inflection of his voice and some of his pronunciations are very much in the country style. This song will hit home with a lot of people, stating simply that you can’t rely on someone else’s salvation, and you have to make the decision to believe on your own.
4. I Love Living In Grace - It’s not unheard of for groups in Southern Gospel music to record the same song at the same time. It’s not heard of often, though, for groups across the country from each other to do so. This song opened up Tribute Quartet’s latest project, and Liberty Quartet’s version is slightly more jazzy than the latter. The key is also slightly lower. Other than that, there’s not much difference.
5. Till There Was Jesus - This shuffling jazz number features bass vocalist Royce Mitchell. Mitchell’s voice is very smooth here, and he carries his solo verse well. The group as a whole sounds very smooth on this track as well.
6. God Made A Way - I was expecting the SG classic of the same title that has been recorded by Signature Sound and others, but I was surprised when a driving tune in the style of the Kingdom Heirs started up. Lead singer Dan Gilbert gets the solos here, and his vocal style is similar to that of Arthur Rice’s. This song is sure to be a favorite at concerts.
7. He Came To Me - Tenor singer Keith Waggoner gets his first real feature of the project here. Waggoner’s voice is not in the stratosphere, but he is one the finest tenors in the business. He keeps within his range, and is very consistent and smooth. He especially knows how to deliver a powerful slow song such as this, and this is one of the best songs on the project.
8. The Welcome - Former pianist and baritone Doran Ritchey sings a song here written by himself. He recently left the group to join Phil Cross & Crossings, and this song is a nice farewell to him. There’s nothing quite like hearing a songwriter sing his own song, and Ritchey does a fine job.
9. Too Long - Although some of the songs this group does could be considered somewhat progressive, they turn in one here that sounds like something The Cathedrals would have done. Royce Mitchell’s bass here even sounds like George Younce in some spots.
10. He’ll Come Through - It’s back to the country sound here, with this song led by Dan Gilbert. Nothing all that different to say about this than there is about “God Made A Way”; both songs are upbeat and they’re equally good.
11. In The Day Of Our Lord - This Jim Davis & Joel Lindsey ballad hands the solo to Jordan Cragun. The song gradually builds as it goes on, until the final chorus when the orchestra really steps up. This triumphant song really illustrates what it will be like when Jesus returns.
12. Welcome To Heaven - Just as it started, the project ends with a powerful orchestrated tune. The group’s arrangement of the classic Singing Americans song doesn’t stray too far from the original, but the orchestrations sound fuller. All in all, this leaves the listener with something familiar and is a good way to end the project.
Final Thoughts: At the risk of sounding like a crazed fan, I’ll make this statement: Liberty Quartet is one of the best-kept secrets in Southern Gospel music.
Being out of the traditional SG travel circuit (they’re based in Boise, Idaho), not many people are exposed to this group’s music other than one week a year at NQC (if they hear them there at all). However, the group turns out music that is just as high quality as any of your popular quartets, if not better at some points. The vocal blend is great, even with guys like Jordan Cragun who haven’t been part of the group as long as the other guys. No member of the group strays out of range, and each member is very consistent in their singing.
That said, this project is a good example of all of that. Nothing about it would give me any reason not to give this project a 5 star rating. The new songs are good, and the older songs that the group recorded here are as well. “He Came Down To My Level” is refreshingly different, and though “Welcome To Heaven” is pretty much like the original, it’s just as well-done.
Bottom line: Liberty Quartet may not gain the attention of groups such as Legacy Five or Triumphant, but their music puts them on par with any top quartet.