Album Review: Plain Ole Gospel (Cathedral Quartet)

This table project was released in 1975. As a slight digression, what I mean by “table project” is that the Cathedral Quartet recorded without the support of a record company. It was not distributed to stores; it was only available from their record table at concerts.

The record cover is unique in that it was not made with the typical cardboard with a glossy surface. The cardboard used to make this record envelope had a matte finish, almost a canvas feel. It was printed in black and white, or to be more precise, dark brown and white. It short, the cover of Plain Ole Gospel is “plain” and does, indeed, have an “old” feel to it.

The orchestrations are simple but sufficient. Haskell Cooley, the group pianist at the time, played piano. Vic Clay, who played guitar for the Catehdral Quartet in its earliest years, produced the project and played guitars. The only other instrumentation was bass, steel guitar, and drums. Though simple orchestration is a common feature of many artists’ table projects, it was intentional here, for a recording based on the “plain ole Gospel” theme could not well have progressive orchestration.

The project starts out with the classic tenor feature, “Glory Road.” Of course, at the time, it was not yet a classic; the Kingsmen had just recorded the original rendition two years before. This rendition is interesting in that since the song was relatively new, groups did not feel any need to do a note-for-note remake of the Kingsmen classic. As examples, an extra bass line is added for Younce at one point, and Tremble does not slip into falsetto on the line “I can see Him on His throne.” Of course, Tremble rarely employed falsetto (or, for that matter, head voice), but is also true that it had not yet been established that every tenor who would do the song had to slip into falsetto on that line.

The second song, “I’ve Been with Jesus,” is the same song the Cathedrals redid on Radio Days in 1996. Much as I love the final lineup of the Cathedrals, this particular song was a perfect fit for the 1970s lineup.

Baritone George Amon Webster is featured on “One Day at a Time.” This was another song that is now a classic, but was relatively new at the time. The Florida Boys recorded their classic rendition in the same year, on their 1975 project First Class Gospel.

Roy Tremble is featured on “Tears are a Language God Understands” another song that was relatively new at the time (recorded in 1972 by the Stamps and in 1973 by the Florida Boys), but has since become a classic. For me at least, the highlight of the song is when George Younce takes the melody on the lines

God sees the tears of a broken-hearted soul
He sees your tears and hears them when they fall

The timing of inverting the harmonies and featuring his voice on those lines is so perfect that it still sends chills down my spine, even after I’ve listened to the project well over a dozen times.

Younce is also featured on the final song on the first side of the record, “He’ll Hold My Hand.” He was in peak voice at the time of this recording; his voice had not attained its full depth in the 1950s, and this was before his later 1980s heart attack that threatened to completely destroy his ability to sing. Of course, he recovered completely, and spent well over an additional decade on the road, but yet this project project–as well as the song–feature him at his peak.
The second side starts with the classic quartet song “We’ll Soon Be Done with Troubles and Trials.”

“What a Beautiful Day,” the seventh song on the project, is another song that has become a classic. But in 1975, when the Cathedrals recorded their rendition, the song was still new; the Happy Goodmans had just recorded their rendition the year before, on Happy Goodman Family Hour.

Of course, “I’ll See You in the Rapture,” the eighth song on the project, is another song that has since become a classic. But it, too, was introduced earlier in the same year on the Kingsmen Quartet’s 1975 Jubilation! project.

The project closes with “His Name is Wonderful,” another relatively new song at the time, and a George Younce narration entitled “Golden Toys.” The final two songs are ably executed but are not songs that incite me to hit the replay button quite as often as the others do.

This project is not only an enjoyable listen, it is interesting historically. With one or two exceptions, this project is composed entirely of songs that had been introduced within two years of when the project was released. Though looking back, it looks like a project of classic songs, it was actually a project of songs that were current hits at the time. The foresight of the Cathedral Quartet in picking current hits that were destined to be classics is somewhat remarkable; here, on one project, we have over a half-dozen songs that have since become classics.

Just how good is this project?

I’m not about to claim that it is the best project the Cathedrals ever recorded. That honor would probably go to Something Special (1982) or Live in Atlanta (1983), the Cathedrals’ best studio and live projects, respectively. But this project may well be the best table project the Cathedrals ever recorded. It is also perhaps the best example of the tight harmonies of the 1970s lineup.

It is always fascinating to listen to a group on the verge of greatness; examples would be the early 1970s Kingsmen, early 1980s Gold City, or late 1990s Perrys. This is just such an album for the Cathedrals; they had in place many of the elements that would make them great, but fans just hadn’t yet figured it out.

Very few people will attempt to collect every single project that the Cathedrals recorded. But for those who just want to find the ten best projects they put out, this project certainly belongs on that list. For some, it might even deserve to be numbered among their top five.