On Liner Notes

Sometimes liner notes can be more interesting than the music they describe. It’s not that the music is boring or forgettable (usually); it’s that liner notes can get pretty interesting.

Liner notes, both today and back in the days when a 33 1/3 rpm record cover provided plenty of room for prolixity, often contain interesting facts about the group and stories about songs or about the recording process of the album. Production credits permit observers to trace musicians’ contributions to various albums.

Songwriter credits are also fascinating. With research, you can easily find whether songs introduced on a recording are entirely new or have been recorded before. One aspect of song credits common in other genres but usually (and unfortunately) omitted in Southern Gospel is listing the year a song was copyrighted; this can also send a signal as to whether the song is original to the project.

But, ironically, the most useful part of CD liner notes is frequently omitted.

First, some background: Some groups, such as Greater Vision and the McKameys, maintain a steady enough lineup for every Southern Gospel fan who so desires to easily remember the members of the group. But most Southern Gospel groups do not measure the duration of a particular lineup in decades.

Some Southern Gospel groups list group personnel in their liner notes. But many groups omit this information, even if they list all the other musicians who contributed to recording the album. While this omission is particularly conspicuous when it occurs in a project by a group with yearly turnover (like the Anchormen, Dixie Melody Boys, or Palmetto State Quartet), it is a problem anywhere.

It causes a problem for people who purchase CDs, tapes, or records of groups recorded before they personally became familiar with the group. Occasionally even the experts will have a hard time figuring out group personnel for a particular record.

Additionally, to just face the facts, quite a few casual Southern Gospel fans don’t read Singing News. Yet they will frequently purchase a group’s album when the group performs a concert at their church. Afterwards, when they open the CD and start listening to it, they might notice that a few of the people who appeared on the cover had left the group by the time they purchased the album.

While all the elements of a good set of liner notes are interesting, identifying the group members is simply too important to overlook.