CD Review: Get Away Jordan (Signature Sound)

Whatever else one thinks of Bill Gaither, virtually everyone agrees that he is a master promoter. Everyone knew that when he took Signature Sound under his wings, things would start happening, but the speed and magnitude of their success has surprised just about everyone.

This recording has been one of the most anticipated recordings in some time, and it lives up to expectations. It has something for everyone, from one or two progressive tracks to several big ballads to a half-dozen classic quartet-styled songs that will warm the heart of traditional quartet fans.

The CD starts with “Someday,” a classic song written by Joe Moscheo and recorded by Moscheo’s group The Prophets, among others. (Moscheo eventually joined the Imperials several years after he wrote the song.) Doug Anderson has the official solo on the song, though Tim Duncan’s bass lines are also prominently featured. This song is a good example of a good song that was widely recorded in its day, but
has since been almost forgotten. It has been occasionally been recorded by various groups through the decades, but hasn’t been prominently featured on a major group’s project for some time.

The next song keeps up the same pace. Though its arrangement, which features Ryan Seaton on the first verse and Tim Duncan on the second, would lead some to think it was another classic, this is actually a new quartet song written by Sonya Isaacs.

The tempo slows a bit for the third song, a cover of Bill Gaither’s song “Lovest Thou Me.” Ryan Seaton, who is growing into his role as a lead singer, and Ernie Haase have the solos on this song.

The fourth song, “John in the Jordan,” is a classic quartet song that is easily one of the highlights of the project. I’ll revisit some of my earlier thoughts on this song:

This was a good pick for a radio single, because it accurately captures Signature Sound: Quartet music that is different than anything you’ve heard before while still having an unmistakably traditional feel.

The song, incidentally, features Ernie Haase on the first verse, but Ernie, lead singer Ryan Seaton, and baritone Doug Anderson trade off lines on the second verse. Bass Tim Duncan is featured on the chorus. After two verses and a bridge, the song transposes from G to A, permitting Duncan to hit a low A.

The song is quite enjoyable and should do well for Signature Sound. The chorus leaves no question that it’s classic quartet music, but it’s both traditional and innovative at the same time. It takes a quartet of Signature Sound’s stature to pull that off.

That still sums up my thoughts fairly well on the song.

The fifth song, “He Made a Change,” fills the Cathedrals slot on the album–a familiar Cathedrals song getting the Signature Sound treatment. The original version (on Faithful) featured Cathedrals baritone Scott Fowler; this rendition features Signature Sound baritone Doug Anderson. The rendition has a brass arrangement similar to that on the original Cathedrals version, yet the arrangement is different enough that Signature Sound makes the song their own.

The sixth song, “Until We Fly Away,” features Doug Anderson. It has been getting high marks from those who have heard it performed live. It is a powerful ballad, but (in my experience) has to grow on you before you can really appreciate it. Though this Joel Lindsey / Pam Thum song has a 2003 copyright date, I’d never heard it until now. Thum may have recorded it on one of her solo projects.

“Beyond the Blues” is a Jeff Silvey/Joel Lindsey song that features Ryan Seaton. The song is given a blues arrangement.

Though the album has several big ballads, the standout is the Sue Smith/Jeff Ferguson song “It is Done.” Ernie Haase, Doug Anderson, and Ryan Seaton each sing a verse on the song. I applaud this arrangement decision, because while Ryan has been featured before on ballads, this song, more than any other previous Signature Sound song (except perhaps “Then Came the Morning”) features him shining at the emotional high point of the song and bring it home, a duty typically held down by Haase or Anderson in most Signature Sound arrangements.

The one odd feature of this arrangement is the tag, a few lines of the Gaither classic “It is Finished.” The song is, of course, a perfect fit thematically–but musically, it’s not quite as perfect a fit. The song “It is Done” is written in a 4/4 meter; the song “It is Finished” is written in a 3/4 meter. Signature Sound and their producers (Lari Goss and Michael English) make the best of the situation, and do a good job pulling off the arrangement given the circumstances.

The ninth song is the Statesmen classic “Our Debts Will Be Paid,” penned by Statesmen bass James “Big Chief” Wetherington. Tim Duncan is featured on the first part of the song; Ryan Seaton takes the lead for the rest of the song.

The tenth song is the title track, “Get Away Jordan.” This song has perhaps been the most-discussed track on the project, due to the fact that the Dove Brothers also perform the song regularly. This rendition isn’t as traditional as the original (but then, neither was the Dove Brothers’). While most traditional quartet fans would lean toward preferring the original Statesmen rendition or the Dove Brothers’ version, many Southern Gospel fans will also like this version. Much has been and will be said about this song, and I won’t add to it except to say this: This is the first version I have heard where I actually understand the lyrics.

This project is a sixteen-song project. In many ways, the first ten songs seem to form a musically consistent album on their own. They are mostly quartet classics and songs arranged like quartet classics, with several big ballads thrown in for good measure. The last six songs on the album, though, are a grab bag of surprises–a novelty song, two patriotic songs, two live songs, and a full-production version of Haase’s signature song.

The first song of the last six is the novelty song “Happy Birthday Anniversary Too.” When I said some time back that there was a song on this project that would raise eyebrows, this was the song I had in mind. While I probably won’t play this song quite as often as I play the others on the project, I understand it goes over well in a live setting.

Two patriotic songs follow: “I Pledge My Allegiance” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” The first is a big ballad that Signature Sound has performed for the National Day of Prayer ceremony with James Dobson (and, parenthetically, is one of the best songs on the project); the latter, our national anthem, is recorded in an arrangement that they have performed in an NBA Cavaliers game pre-show.

The fourteenth track is “Oh What a Savior.” This is the first time Haase has recorded the song with full production. Though some have made a point of saying he lowered the key for this rendition, it is worth observing that while his original 1990 rendition was in G, this rendition is only a half-step lower, in F-sharp. It is also worth pointing out that Haase has been performing the song in F-sharp for at least ten years, ever since the Cathedrals’ Alive! Deep in the Heart of Texas (1997) recording. So the song is no lower than he has been singing it for the last decade, though it sounds slightly different due to the maturing of Haase’s voice.

The final two songs are live tracks. “Plan of Salvation” was recorded live in Anderson, Indiana, and was included as a bonus track on Ernie Haase & Signature Sound’s self-titled DVD. “Get Away Jordan” is from the audio track from Signature Sound’s live DVD, released in conjunction with this project.

Though much has been made of the fact that the project contains one classic (“Get Away Jordan”) being currently staged by another group, Haase’s selection of other songs mixes new songs with classic songs that are not being widely used at the present time. Though “Someday,” “Lovest Thou Me,” “Plan of Salvation,” and “Our Debts Will Be Paid” are all quartet classics, few full-time professional groups are performing any of these songs regularly today.

In closing, let me return to one point I touched on earlier. In many ways, I look on the first ten songs as the core of the album, with six songs added that could well be labeled bonus tracks. The two live tracks were not specifically recorded for this CD, while the four studio tracks were all recorded primarily for live performance.

If the complete album is viewed as one entity, the ending seems slightly schizophrenic with one novelty track, two patriotic tunes, and two live song. I prefer to approach this project as an album of ten songs with six bonus tracks. But however you approach it, this album offers an enjoyable mix of pretty much everything Southern Gospel quartet singing has to offer.