Aaron Swain's blog about Southern Gospel Music, News, and other items of interest in the SG world.

Archive for the ‘Liberty Quartet’

Dan Gilbert Departs Liberty Quartet

April 13, 2011 By: Aaron Category: Liberty Quartet, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

Via an email sent out this morning, as well as a post on Southern Gospel Blog, Liberty Quartet is looking for a lead singer. I won’t recount it all here, but rather encourage you to go to Daniel Mount’s site and watch the video interview that was posted. As a commenter there stated, the bar has been raised on how to handle a lineup change. Rather than put out a written press release about the change (although that can certainly get the job done well and in a classy way, see any posts on here pertaining to a change in Southern Sound Quartet), the group leader and another member go on camera and break the news. This particular case is a great example; it is clear, it is classy, and it leaves no doubt as to whether or not the member leaves on good terms. Dan Gilbert certainly does, and the video alone is evidence of that.

While many in the “main” realm of Southern Gospel music have probably not heard Dan sing since Liberty Quartet is based out of Idaho, I can say from experience that he is one of the most underrated vocalists in the genre. He certainly will be missed, best wishes to him, and I have no doubt that Liberty Quartet will not miss a step with their next hire.

Youtube Find: Celebration Quartet Reunion

September 09, 2010 By: Aaron Category: Celebration Quartet, Liberty Quartet, SG Artists, SG History, SG Music, Youtube

Fans that are familiar with the Liberty Quartet will know that when baritone Jordan Cragun first joined the group, he had several ties in the Southern Gospel industry already; his father sang bass in a group called the Celebration Quartet, and Jordan’s aunt, Kim Collingsworth, was pianist for the group. The quartet only released one project, and the vocalists were all called to the pastorate, so they split up. Jordan talks about them here, and says they were “an amazing quartet.”

Recently, they held a reunion concert (minus Kim) in Roanoke, VA, about 45 minutes from my hometown. The baritone for the group, Jeff Keaton, pastors the Parkway House of Prayer there, and the tenor, Mark Dubbeld is the minister of music there. Lead singer Dan Coy is the youth pastor. Ray Cragun, the group’s bass singer, came up from Lousiana, where he pastors a church, for the event. I was unable to attend, but my friend Andrew Graham went and got several video clips of the concert. Keep in mind that the group traveled about twenty years ago, when the guys were in their twenties, and none of them have sung professionally otherwise.





CD Review: Liberty Quartet – The Journey

October 17, 2009 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, Liberty Quartet, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating: 5 stars

Producers: Doran Ritchey, Phil Cross, & Roger Talley
Label: Crossline Records
Website: www.libertyquartet.com

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.

Doran Ritchey Leaves Liberty Quartet

July 29, 2009 By: Aaron Category: Liberty Quartet, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

From the group’s latest newsletter:

For the past four and half years, Liberty Quartet has enjoyed the musical talent, humor and personality of Doran Ritchey. We are excited for Doran’s new adventure as he and his wife Diane join Crossing with Phil Cross, noted Southern Gospel song writer and vocalist. Change is never easy and losing a talent like Doran Ritchey will be difficult to say the least. Many of you have enjoyed getting to know Doran, Diane and their family over the past few years. Many of the songs Liberty currently sings have been produced through the talents and creative heart of Doran.

Doran says “The last four and a half years have provided a wealth of experiences while singing with Liberty. The friendships that I have made are deep and lasting. I’m grateful to Royce and the opportunity he provided to travel with Liberty. While I’m going to miss traveling with the guys, I’m also looking forward to the chance to minister with my wife Diane. Thank you for your support and prayers as we make this transition. We love you guys!”

Please join us in wishing the Ritchey’s the very best in this new adventure. We trust that God will enrich their ministry as they join Phil and look forward to hearing and singing future songs that have been written by Doran.

Phil Cross has gained one of the most talented up-and-coming writers in SG right now. It will be interesting, to say the least, to hear the results if Cross and Ritchey start co-writing songs. Best of luck to Doran as he begins this new endeavor.

Joint Album Review: Liberty Quartet – Amazed

March 20, 2009 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, Joint Reviews, Liberty Quartet, SG Artists, SG Music


Daniel J. Mount (www.SouthernGospelBlog.com)
Wes Burke (Burke’s Brainwork)
Aaron Swain (Swain’s Musings)

1. Amazed at the Change
Aaron: The album with a slightly slow, country-style tune. Sounds like something out of The Kingdom Heirs’ songbook. Nice way to open up the project.

2. Keep Me
Wes: This is a nice midtempo song with a slightly progressive edge to it. The harmonies are nice and smooth, and they do a really good job of using some unison lines and verses to keep the song musically interesting. This is a really nice cut.

Aaron: This song utilizes some great progressive harmonies to drive it. The group would do well to release this to radio soon.

3. Broken But Blessed
Daniel: This song, featuring tenor Keith Waggoner, is musically subdued but lyrically powerful. It was co-written by Twila LeBar and Sue C. Smith, two of the best but least recognized songwriters in Southern Gospel. (LeBar is co-writer of songs like “Orphans of God” and “The Great I Am Still Is”; Sue C. Smith has co-written songs like “But For the Blood,” “He Forgets,” “Forgave Me Saved Me Raised Me,” and “Realms of Glory Bright.”)

Wes: Keith does a great job on this song. He’s not the highest tenor you are going to hear, but he has a very pleasing voice and does a great job interpreting this song. There’s nothing really flashy here, as Daniel alluded to, but just some solid singing on a nice tune.

Daniel: Keith actually does have a few high notes in him. But he’s said in the past (here) that one thing the group stresses is that none of the vocalists push the limits of their range—that they only record and stage what they can consistently produce.

Aaron: That’s an interesting tidbit, Daniel. That shows me that these guys care about putting out quality music and preserving their voices.
The project’s first truly slow song is a good song. Just straight-forward singing, no vocal showboating.

4. Just Stand
Wes: Midtempo number featuring bass singer Royce Mitchell. This sounds a lot like something you’d hear from the Kingdom Heirs. Actually, there are several songs on this disc that sound a lot like KH tunes. Since the KH are one of the most solid quartets around, that’s a good thing. This is a very enjoyable tune.

Daniel: Royce has had professional voice training and often utilizes an operatic voice. On this song, he drops the vibrato. I’d agree with Wes’s observation that this gives the song a Kingdom Heirs feel.

Aaron: Like the other guys have said, this does sound like a KH song, but I also find that it recalls the song “God’s Still Good” from Gold City’s Revival project. Mitchell displays a nice lower range here.

5. Into the Water
Daniel: This uptempo song is a nice change of pace from a string of slower ballads. If Liberty singles an uptempo song, this is probably the most radio-friendly uptempo song on the CD.

Wes: There is some nice smooth harmony on this song. These guys know how to sing and how to blend.

6. Call It What It Is
Daniel: This song has a distinctive enough lyric and melody to be unique—but at the same time, it is unmistakably a Southern Gospel big ballad. This song should stand out and do well if singled. I received the CD about a week ago and (rare for me) the song is already on my top 50 most played list on iTunes (out of 11,000+ songs).

Aaron: Awesome song. Lead singer Dan Gilbert has a sound to his voice that sounds like Bryan Hutson, and it works very well for this track. Great choice for a single.

Daniel: Interesting comparision. I hadn’t thought of comparing Gilbert to Hutson—I’d been thinking along the lines of a comparison to Phil Cross or even Arthur Rice.

Wes: I actually don’t hear any of the 3 comparisons. I think Gilbert has a sound all his own. That doesn’t detract from the fact that this is one of the strongest songs on the disc. Nice smooth harmonies on this number. I really like this song.

7. Music at Midnight
Wes: Nice uptempo number. This song sounds like the group was going after the type of sound that was found on Gold City’s “If God Be For Us” with strings and brass behind the more traditional SG instrumentation, including some nice banjo/guitar interplay on the instrumental break. This song doesn’t quite measure up to Gold City’s gem, but it is still very enjoyable, and kudos on the arrangement.

8. He’s Been There Too
Daniel: Liberty Quartet bass singer Royce Mitchell is featured on this song. It’s somewhat unusual to give a bass singer a solo on a big ballad, but Mitchell is equally adept at singing straight-ahead low bass and almost operatic higher bass, and he showcases his operatic bass/baritone range to great effect here.

Aaron: As a first-time listener of Liberty Quartet, one would be hard-pressed to believe that the featured singer here is the same guy that was rocking the low end of the spectrum a couple of tracks back. But it is indeed Royce Mitchell, and like Daniel said, his bass/baritone range sounds great here.

Wes: This is a nice ballad, and Mitchell really shows some nice range.

9. Why Wouldn’t I
Aaron: Lead singer Dan Gilbert is a two-fold singer; on slower songs, he sounds like Bryan Hutson. But give him a hard-driving faster song like this and you have a young Arthur Rice. This is a good, country-style track.

Daniel: I didn’t notice earlier that you were about to get to the same comparison I had in mind!

Wes: This is a nice, solid uptempo track. Nothing flashy, but just good solid singing.

10. He Will Quiet You

Wes: This is a nice, soft, tender ballad. I like the echo harmonies on the first part of the chorus up against the unison echoes on the last part of the chorus. The round like harmonies on the bridge are very nice as well, and something to set this song apart.

11. That’s What Love Does
Daniel: This song was written by baritone/pianist Doran Ritchey. The group pulls off some tight jazz harmonies with confidence.

Wes: I’m a sucker for jazz influenced songs, and these guys pull it off very well. They have a really smooth sound, and this is one of my favorites. The soft swing beat gets your foot tapping and your head bobbing.

Daniel: This is one of the strongest independently released projects I’ve heard this year. A label would really do well to pick this group up as soon as they can.

Aaron: I can’t say much more than Daniel has. It’s about time that this group gets the national recognition they deserve and get picked up by a major label. Of course, with Crossroads signing groups like nobody’s business these days, it may not be long!

Wes: These guys are one of the best kept secrets in Southern Gospel music. These guys are solid at every position in the group and have a good concept of their strengths as vocalists. They play to their respective strengths and don’t try to be something they are not. They’ve done a good job of including a variety of styles on this project as well. Somebody needs to pick these guys up on a major label, and soon!


Daniel: Average song rating – 4.0. Overall rating: 4.5.
Aaron: Average song rating – 4 stars. Overall rating: 4.5 stars.
Wes: Average song rating – 4 stars. Overall rating: 4.5 stars

My NQC 2009 Top Five

November 21, 2008 By: Aaron Category: Cross 4 Crowns, Liberty Quartet, Mike and Kelly Bowling, N'Harmony, NQC, SG Artists, SG Music, The Collingsworth Family, The Imperials, The Old Paths

Daniel Mount’s latest post lists the top (ten) groups he’d like to see on mainstage at NQC 2009, and it’s a good list. I’ve narrowed mine down to five very deserving groups (in no particular order):

1. The Old Paths – One of the best young groups out there today (and with a live band, too!), these guys remind me of an early Kingsmen lineup. They should have a spot for sure.

2. Liberty Quartet – They were a hit at showcases last year, and I was impressed with the song they did when they were invited to mainstage for a song on Saturday night. I’ve heard their new project, and it’s one of the best this year. One of the classiest and best sounding groups on the road.

3. The Collingsworth Family – Anyone familiar with their music and talent knows that this group has had a mainstage spot coming for several years. Give it to ’em already!

4. N’Harmony – The revived version of this group has a tight blend that few “starting” groups have. Daniel Mount mentioned a “one-year-rule,” meaning that a group has to be in existence for one year before they are invited to mainstage. Technically, the group has been around for much more than a year, just not this particular lineup. These guys could be the next Mercy’s Mark (although I hope they can keep together longer!) and they certainly have the talent level to be on mainstage.

5. Mike & Kelly Bowling – They have several great songs in their repretoire, and it’s about time they get a slot on mainstage. There’s no excuse not to have them.

Honorable mentions: Cross 4 Crowns – The only reason they didn’t make my list is because I don’t think many people have heard them yet. They are a shoo-in for my 2010 list, though, and I’ll have a review of their newest release in a few weeks.

The Imperials – I can hear the naysayers now: “Hey! They’re not really SG!” Really? To my ears, they sound like Southern Gospel with a kick. After the SGN Awards a few months ago, one guy even said they were “Southern Rock-spel” Sure, they’re Progressive at any rate, but the “new” group of The Imps has a couple good albums under their belt already. Group name history notwithstanding, they’ve got a great sound.

News Roundup

November 03, 2008 By: Aaron Category: Blogging Community, Liberty Quartet, SG Artists, SG Music

Liberty Quartet Adds New Member: Keith Waggoner, tenor singer for the quartet, reports that former baritone/pianist Doran Ritchey will be dropping the baritone from that title and focusing solely on piano. He’s a very talented keyboardist and will do very well. The group is adding a new baritone singer, Jordan Cragun, who has a rich family background in SG that Keith discusses in the post.
Be sure to watch the video featuring Jordan. He blends very well with the group. He will start traveling with them fulltime in January 2009.

(As a side note, a mega-review of Liberty Quartet’s newest album, Amazed is in the works. Be on the lookout!)

New Blog: Just wanted to get the word out about a brand-new blog called the VA Southern Gospel Blog. It’s run by my friend Jeremy Bell and, as the first post says, will be “a plethora of concert reviews, VA artist CD reviews, and a whole host of other things that will be brought out in the future. Join us as the team at VA Southern Gospel keeps you informed of what is happening with the Southern Gospel music scene in Virginia.”