Southern Exposure
A Debut, Some Americana Hymns and a Cathedral Quartet Tribute
This summer and fall, some great gospel music has been released, including Guy Penrod's Breathe Deep (Servant Records/Gaither Music), Candy Christmas' On the Other Side (Bridge Records) and Bill and Gloria Gaither's new videos, Givng Thanks and Count Your Blessings (Gaither Music).  While I have thoroughly enjoyed every one of these and highly recommend them, I am particularly impressed with Wes Hampton's solo debut, Clay Crosse's latest CD and the tribute to the Cathedral Quartet by Ernie Haase & Signature Sound.  Though stylistically different, each record honors God and expresses a message of hope during these trying times in which we live.

Wes Hampton/A Man Like Me
*Wes Hampton Music
Produced by Gordon Mote, Michael English, Nathan Zwald and Wes Hampton

The recording of his solo debut is not something that Gaither Vocal Band member Wes Hampton took lightly.  I happen to know because Wes and I discussed this album during its stages of conception.  Recording independently, Wes was able to experience the artistic freedom seldom afforded some singers who are subject to the whims of major label executives.  For A Man Like Me, Wes enlisted Gordon Mote, Michael English and Nathan Zwald as fellow producers, and assembled together eleven well-crafted songs of depth and lasting value.  Wes's exemplary vocals are delivered with the fervor and conviction with which he is known to sing.  And, though this record and an increasing number of solo dates have taken him out of his comfort zone, Wes appears confident and accomplished, but remains the humble and ever-growing artist we've admired from the beginning.  A Man Like Me is truly a stellar freshman effort.

Kim Vetter Photography, Nashville

On August 3, 2009, Southern Edition published an interview with Wes Hampton during which he discussed his career and exciting cookbook, A Place At the Table:  Hampton Family Recipes.

Resonating throughout this project are a strong sense of self-examination and resolve to experience a more intimate relationship with God.  While some gospel artists resort to recording mostly "feel good" songs that lack even a semblance of transparency and reveal little about their spiritual journey, Wes's song selections acknowledge his humanity---a sinful nature and broken condition---and admit that total surrender to God is the only way through which one can honor the Father and mirror Christ to nonbelievers. 

Through the opening "One Day," Wes declares, "One day in a perfect moment, failures are gonna fall away....," as he anticipates the day when sin will be defeated once and for all and the redeemed dwell in the presence of Jesus. 

On the infectious title track, Wes sings, ".....'cause love has made a way and your arms still reach even for a man, for a man like me," praising the One who loves the supposed unlovable and gives hope in our most dismal hours.  Incidentally, Daywind recording artist and former Gaither Vocal Band baritone Marshall Hall joins Wes on this one, performing backing vocals.

While each track on this CD merits praise, I am particularly moved by "Because of Love" and "Sweet Surrender," the latter a beautifully written song from a collaboration between Geron Davis, Sonya Isaacs and Rebecca Isaacs Bowman.  But Wes's soaring tenor voice and a resounding choir make "Jesus Saves" perhaps the most memorable tune on the disc while "It Is Well with My Soul," one of our most beloved hymns, is performed with Steve Green and serves as a particularly fitting climax to a great album.

*Following the publication of this review, Wes Hampton's A Man Like Me was released by Gaither Music Group.

Clay Crosse/Everytime I Feel the Spirit:  An Americana Collection of Hymns and Such
HolyHomes Music
Produced by Phil Madeira, Todd Robbins, Luke Smith and Clay Crosse

At the very least, Everytime I Feel the Spirit:  An Americana Collection of Hymns and Such further demonstrates Clay Crosse's amazing artistry and versatility.  We know deep down the Memphis singer's got some soul, and we've heard him rock with the best of them, but who could have imagined Clay Crosse would ever record a country-tinged record?  Southern gospel, maybe.  But country?  While I might always be partial to Clay's sophomore project, Time To Believe (Reunion), I think the recording of this CD, something Clay refers to as "an itch I just had to scratch," displays a side to the singer that really grows on you.  And it actually suits him.

Everytime I Feel the Spirit
celebrates some of the songs that have inspired countless traditional and contemporary performers and indelibly impacted generations of believers.  With "There's Power in the Blood," Clay kicks the album off on an upbeat note and by the time track two, the title cut, begins to play, you are bound to think out loud:  "The boy's gone country . . . and I kinda like it!"

Cover art by Jimmy Abegg
Holy Homes, the ministry of Clay and Renee Crosse, was born out of the healing and restoration of their marriage following Clay's admission of his struggle with lust and pornography.  Clay and Renee have since impacted countless lives for Christ through his music ministry and their seminars and conferences.
I've heard stirring versions of "How Great Thou Art" by everyone from Elvis Presley to Yolanda Adams, and artists ranging from Johnny Cash to the Birmingham Sunlights, a Jubilee-style African American group, have recorded "In the Garden."  Rest assured, however, that you haven't heard anything quite like Clay's interpretations.  These tracks transport me to a place of reflection and contemplation, a place where I frequently stand in awe of God's mercy and grace.

Not surprisingly, two of my favorite tracks are Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" and Dorothy Love Coates' black gospel standard, "That's Enough."  Enhanced by producer Phil Madeira's organ riffs and the backing vocals of Ann McCreary and Regina McCreary, these songs---certainly the least country-sounding tracks on the album---represent alternative strains of America's rich, musical past.  I regard Dylan as a songwriting genius and, sadly, not every artist (including Dylan himself, but don't tell him I said that!!!) can do justice to his songs.  But Clay's renditions of the Dylan and Coates tunes are smokin'!  Just earlier this summer, my buddy, Jimmy Carter of the Blind Boys of Alabama, and I discussed Coates' music as we rode the van to and from the Blind Boys' Asheville hotel and Lake Eden Arts Festival gig.  I have been a fan of Coates' songwriting for years, and I think the gospel songstress---who was known for telling it like it is---would most definitely approve of Clay's cover of her song!

Decidedly laid back and stripped down, "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" and the plaintive plea of "I Need Thee Every Hour" prove that Clay doesn't need a lot of bells and whistles to create a great sound.  Simple instrumentation and his own lead and harmony vocals suffice.  The songs do the rest.

However, some first-class musicians and vocalists appear on this record in addition to Dove Award winner Phil Madeira, whose keyboard prowess is evident on some of Nashville's greatest records.  And, like any well-behaved country record, there's the presence of steel guitar.  I recently remarked to Clay, "Never thought I'd hear you sing with a pedal steel, but it's all good!"  Pedal steel guitarist Bryan Owings produces a sound on "There's Power In the Blood," "Everytime I Feel the Spirit," "How Great Thou Art," "In the Garden" and "Wonderful Merciful Savior" that is hardly the Robert Randolph-esque sound one could imagine from a Clay Crosse project, but rather it is distinctly "Nashville" without the overwhelming "cry in your beer" twang some listeners, namely myself, find so repulsive.

Further distinguishing this album from other projects offered this year is the eye-catching cover art by Jimmy Abegg.  Meanwhile, Clay is turning out his own brand of folk art that is reminiscent of the late Rev. Howard Finster's work.  His subjects have included Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley and Otis Redding.

After listening to this album, I recently commented to Clay, "I just wanted to say I totally dig the new CD!!! . . . I knew you couldn't go wrong with Phil Madeira producing.  [It's a] great project, man."  To that, Clay replied, "Thanks, Greg.  That means a lot, my friend.  Gotta say I've never been more pleased with a project."  And that's saying a lot, coming from someone who has received Dove Awards, garnered critical acclaim and worked in music ministry for more than fifteen years.

Everytime I Feel the Spirit:  An Americana Collection of Hymns and Such
and Clay's folk art can be purchased via, the ministry of Clay and Renee Crosse.

Ernie Haase & Signature Sound/A Tribute to The Cathedral Quartet
Gaither Music
Produced by Wayne Haun and Lari Goss

Arguably the most dynamic quartet in gospel music today, Dove Award winners Ernie Haase & Signature Sound thrill audiences with their tight harmonies, high-energy stage presence and string of popular songs that includes "Trying To Get a Glimpse," "Stand By Me," "Get Away, Jordan," "Someday" and "Then Came the Morning."

With A Tribute to The Cathedral Quartet, their newest CD, Ernie and the boys fail to disappoint.  For decades, the Cathedrals, with legends George Younce (bass) and Glen Payne (lead) at the helm, introduced to gospel music fans a host of hits that were destined to become classics.  The group also served as a launching pad for many of today's most well-known gospel performers, including Kirk Talley, Gerald Wolfe, Scott Fowler and, of course, Ernie, George's son-in-law.

In all honesty, I miss the Cathedrals.  The final configuration of the group with George, Glen, Ernie, Scott and pianist Roger Bennett was an inimitable combination.  I miss George's onstage antics (Remember his "I love old people" quips?) and Glen's spontaneity as much as I miss witnessing Howard & Vestal Goodman and Johnny Minick turn a sports arena into an old-fashioned campmeeting or hearing my friend, Eva Mae LeFevre, delight an audience with "The Prettiest Flowers Will Still Be Blooming."  But any one of our musical heroes who are no longer with us would have boldly declared and sung, if prompted, "This world is not my home, I'm only passing by...."  Thankfully, we are left with some lasting memories and some great songs.

Jake Harsh Photography, Nashville

A Tribute to The Cathedral Quartet contains the caliber of songs that continue to speak to us during a sleepless night, lift us up in the midst of trials and bring a smile to our face as if we're hearing the lyrics for the very first time.  From the Kirk Talley- and Phil Cross-penned "Wedding Music" to a medley of songs by Bill and Gloria Gaither, Signature Sound---comprised of Ernie (tenor), former Karen Peck & New River vocalist Devin McGlamery (lead), Doug Anderson (baritone) and Tim Duncan (bass)---pays homage to the group that inspired its exciting journey.

Teaming with veteran producers Wayne Haun and Lari Goss, Signature Sound offers such Cathedrals standards as "Step Into the Water," "Boundless Love," "An Old Convention Song," "Moving Up to Gloryland" and "We Shall See Jesus."  My favorites include "Sinner Saved By Grace," "Plan of Salvation," "God Delivers Again," "Can He, Could He, Would He," "Life Will Be Sweeter" and Stuart Hamblen's "This Ole House."

If George and Glen had a song of testimony, it was undoubtedly "Sinner Saved By Grace," one of Bill and Gloria Gaither's greatest compositions.  Through this song and tunes like "Plan of Salvation," the Cathedrals proclaimed to the multitudes the saving grace and transforming power of God, no doubt, drawing many unto Christ.  With Mike Payne's "God Delivers Again," we are reminded of the Lord's faithfulness through the re-telling of Moses parting the Red Sea and the Hebrew boys surviving the fiery furnace.  One of the album's pleasant surprises, "Can He, Could He, Would He," with its jazz accompaniment, sounds a bit like an evening performance at New Orleans' Preservation Hall.  The catchy lyrics have the ability to stay with you all day long!  And let's face it.  There are worse songs you could have in your head!  As for "This Old House," Tim sings George's trademark song (one of many, perhaps) so well that George might would jokingly insist, "I don't know of a bass singer I hadn't rather hear sing than you!"  George made a similar statement decades ago regarding fellow bass singer J. D. Sumner, and it took some time for J. D.'s ego to deflate long enough to realize George wasn't paying him a compliment!

If A Tribute to The Cathedral Quartet affects you the way it affects me, you just might fondly reminisce of evenings spent at Cathedrals concerts and find yourself moved by these tremendous songs and the manner in which Signature Sound performs them.  I grew up listening to this music, and this album represents a big part of what has influenced me creatively even though I never had the privilege of meeting George Younce or Glen Payne up close and in person.  While I dare not deify these men, it goes without saying that they were two of gospel music's most respected individuals, and they enthusiastically devoted their energy, talents and influence to the highest calling.  For that example, I will always be grateful.  If the Cathedrals were a blessing to you in any way, you will be blown away by this incredible CD from the next best group, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound.

Author:  Greg Freeman.  Published October 26, 2010.

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