CD Review: Cathedrals Family Reunion

CD Review: Cathedrals Family Reunion November 12, 2013

For the first time ever, the 80s and 90s lineups of the Cathedral Quartet have come together, along with the men they currently sing with, in one of the largest tributes to the legendary group yet. With top-notch production values and legendary singers like Mark Trammell, Gerald Wolfe and Danny Funderburke still bringing it to the table, it really was never possible for this to be a bad project.

I really wanted to write a full-fledged, detailed review of this album. As it is, this review will be formatted a little differently from normal because I’m writing it on the fly, without time to really soak in the album fully.  However, I’ve enjoyed reading others’ take on it so much that I thought I might as well toss my hat in the ring and share some thoughts and extra commentary, based on what I’ve heard so far. There’s also a little poll at the end to gauge reader interest in the project after reading my thoughts.
This is the list of songs selected:
1. Blood Washed Band
2. We Shall Be Caught Up
3. Wedding Music
4. We’ll Work
5. O Come Along
6. I’ve Read The Back of the Book
7. Yesterday
8. Can He, Could He, Would He
9. Oh, What A Savior
10. He Made A Change
11. Somebody Touched Me
12. Search Me, O God
13. Champion of Love

First, I love the concept—bringing together a choir of all the Cathedrals legacy groups for the first time. The brand new track “We’ll Work,” plus scrap-iron combos on selected songs with the young basses getting to test their chops on Younce features are also excellent.
And yet, ultimately it doesn’t seem to offer much that’s fresh. For one thing, both Signature Sound and the L5/MTQ/GV/Funderburk gang have each done their own tributes already. So it’s not like this new project is offering the only recent recording of Funderburk or Trammell on one of their signature Cathedrals tunes. Moreover, Signature Sound’s tribute was more musically creative (which admittedly worked better on some tracks than others) and covered a broader swatch of the quartet’s work. 
You might argue, “Why is it supposed to be fresh? It’s a family reunion of Cathedrals singers singing Cathedrals songs!” It’s not really the production I have a problem with. I actually like the classic feel in this context. (My personal favorite is the sweeping, all-stops-pulled-out feel on “Blood-Washed Band.”) However, I do think the songs chosen could have been more varied. The reliance on very well-worn hits like “Can He Could He Would He,” “Champion of Love,” “Oh What a Savior,” and “He Made a Change” doesn’t really do justice to the Cathedrals’ rich catalogue.  I do appreciate the inclusion of a few songs like “We Shall Be Caught Up,” “Bloodwashed Band” and “Oh Come Along,” but there just weren’t enough picks like that. There are many overlooked gems just waiting to be pulled out and dusted off, and with all the Cats legacy heavyweights in one place, this could have been a golden opportunity to revive some of them for a new audience.
As I was thinking about this, I started making a list, and here’s what I came up with. (Note: I am actually pulling some of these from a very old e-mail conversation I had with Daniel Mount, where we put together our ideal Cathedrals tribute collection.)

“My Lord Will Send a Moses” — Okay, I’m NOT trying to kick off a big Kirk Talley thread here, but I just think this is a great song, and it could really benefit from the big, hearty sound of all the groups coming together on it.
“Crimson River” — I think I’ve mentioned this one before. I can’t for the life of me figure out why it’s so little-known. But you can just hear everyone coming together on these gorgeous harmonies. I would give Pat Barker the bass solo:
“Land of Living”: I’d much, much rather they’d reunited Mark, Gerald and Danny on this one than doing yet another cut of “Champion of Love.”
“Whosoever Will”: Okay, maybe Danny would feel like he couldn’t replicate his younger performance, but still… an awesome song:
“Hard Trials”: Before you say I’m just suggesting slow songs, how about this classic from Radio Days? Paul Harkey could take the bass, and Ernie could trade off with Gerald Wolfe.
“High and Lifted Up” — How about this overlooked epic? Mark Trammell could knock it out of the park.
“I Want to See Jesus” — I’ve been nagging Ernie to bring this back forever…
“Next Time We Meet”: And finally this, the perfect, haunting finish. I might replace Danny with Ernie to make it a bit smoother.
Replacing even a few of the chestnuts with some of these gems would definitely have piqued my interest in the project more. However, there’s one factor I may not be taking into account, namely that this is first and foremost a concert event, not an album. So, naturally most fans will be more inclined to drive hundreds of miles to hear “Champion of Love” than… well, pretty much anything in this list. And since they needed to write all the arrangements anyway… but even so, why do you need to re-orchestrate “Oh What a Savior”? It’s been performed perfectly well with just piano and bass.
Perhaps they could have sung the old favorites for the fans at the concert and released something more varied on CD? I don’t really know. I’m just thinking out loud. Ultimately I’m happy to add it to my collection. I’m just not sure how many “spins” it will get (of course it’s all in mp3 form now, but whatever). But I give it 4 stars for being a cool idea well-produced, and for the inclusion of the other singers in all the groups and the chance to see some different vocal lineups show their stuff.
SO anyway, now here’s your chance to nod your head in agreement with me or tell me I’m all wet: a video preview of the project, followed by a little poll. I was especially amused to learn that Gerald hated “Champion of Love” at first and was forced to listen to it for three hours by the producer until he learned to like it! Hey Gerald, I hear your first instinct is often your best…
[polldaddy poll=7554150]

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  • w.l. waters

    It would take at least 4 cd’s to do a really great tribute to the greatest Quartet to ever grace a stage. I would have liked for them to have included all of the older members of this greatest group ever.

  • Right, there’s also that, but keep in mind that many of the older members are retired or no longer in the vocal shape to do something like this.

  • Lydia

    My hearty votes for reviving “High and Lifted Up,” “Hard Trials,” and “I Want to See Jesus.” Some of the other oldies I haven’t yet had a chance to listen to.
    Maybe now somebody needs to do a “Cathedrals Revivals” album to cover all of those!

  • AJ

    I know most of the song is Glen Payne but I always thought “The Prodigal Son” was a solid staple. I don’t know maybe just use a copy of an older recording and let Mark, Danny & Gerald sing in the background.

  • Lydia

    Okay, I’ve now listened to all the extra songs you put up _and_ to the advertising trailer for the project. I have to admit that what I liked most about the trailer was just hearing the guys talk and seeing the pictures of them recording. (Who is the young-looking fellow in the baseball cap and the black shirt standing in the middle when they are recording “Search Me, O God”?)
    So a DVD would almost be more exciting to me than a CD.
    About the extra songs you suggested (which aren’t on the project), besides the ones I’ve already said I love, which have long been among my favorites, I really, really liked “Next Time We Meet,” and “Land of Living.”

  • I think that’s Doug. 🙂

  • Lydia

    Doug Anderson? Oh, I get it! I just noticed the phrase “along with the men they currently sing with” in your main post. Of course it’s Doug! The black and white picture threw me off.

  • Lydia

    Okay, I admit, that’s a great performance on “Whosoever Will” that Danny turned in.