CD Review: A Tribute to the Cathedral Quartet (Ernie Haase & Signature Sound)

Next Tuesday, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound will be releasing A Tribute to the Cathedral Quartet, a CD/DVD combo covering 21 songs from Haase’s alma mater, the Cathedrals. Based on a request from their publicist to post the review by the time of release, and due to the fact that I only a have a pre-release version of the CD, this review only addresses the CD.

A review of a full-album tribute project must be equal parts an examination of the song selection and the renditions themselves. The twenty-one songs come from the following Cathedrals recordings:

  • 1972, Welcome To Our World: Yesterday
  • 1976: Easy on the Ears, Heavy on the Heart: Gentle Shepherd
  • 1981, Colors of His Love: God Delivers Again
  • 1982, Something Special: Step Into the Water, Mexico, Jesus We Just Want to Thank You
  • 1983, Live in Atlanta: I’m Gonna Live Forever, We Shall See Jesus, Movin’ Up to Gloryland
  • 1983, Voices in Praise Acapella: Wonderful Grace of Jesus
  • 1984: The Prestigious Cathedral Quartet: Old Convention Song
  • 1986, Master Builder: Can He Could He Would He, Sinner Saved By Grace, Plan of Salvation
  • 1986, Travelin’ Live: Boundless Love
  • 1987, Symphony of Praise: Champion of Love, This Ole House
  • 1989, 25th Anniversary: Life Will be Sweeter Someday
  • 1990, Climbing Higher and Higher: Oh, What a Savior
  • 1991, The Best of Times: Wedding Music
  • 1993, High and Lifted Up: I Thirst
  • 1998, Faithful: He Made a Change

On first glance, the ratio of two from the ’70s, six from the ’90s, and fifteen from the ’80s might seem a little odd. But think about it this way: First, no matter how confident someone may be in the strength of their earlier work, it is an inherently uncomfortable position to be paying tribute to yourself. Second, the Talley/Trammell/Bennett lineup is the lineup that got Ernie Haase hooked on Cathedrals music, the group that led him to want to sing Southern Gospel. Finally, the Cathedrals released about a dozen recordings of (mostly) new songs in the ’80s, and five in the ’90s, so there is far more material from the ’80s. So, in this context, the ratio makes sense.

There are four or five songs that pretty much any Cathedral alumnus doing a tribute project would have to include—”Step Into the Water,” “Champion of Love,” “Boundless Love,” and “Plan of Salvation” at a minimum. The project includes these and a strong representation from a second tier of songs that would generate the most requests/comments if omitted. The less obvious picks that made the project—”I’m Gonna Live Forever,” “God Delivers Again,” and “I Thirst” heading the list—come predominantly from the lineup that got Haase hooked on the Cathedrals music (“I Thirst” being the exception, a song that was a bass solo during Haase’s tenure with the Cathedrals but was never singled, and is now a baritone solo and the project’s first single.)

On to the renditions. A number of the renditions stick fairly close to the original. Several renditions either remarkable for their innovation or their inherent strength as a standalone performance include:

  • “We Shall See Jesus.” Glen Payne’s signature song has lain dormant for over a decade. Either an uninspired facsimile of the Cathedrals arrangement or a mediocre synthesized-strings half-hearted attempt at a new arrangement would have been devastating enough to ruin a tribute project. But Wayne Haun’s majestic orchestration and Devin McGlamery’s lead vocal earn the song the highest compliment that could be paid to a new rendition of a song of this caliber: They do the song justice.
  • “Boundless Love.” Like it or not, the percussion-only intro to the song (drum-drum-clap-rest, four times) is distinctive and instantly recognizable. It’s a daring take on a long-familiar classic, and the result is a fun and enjoyable listen.
  • “I Thirst.” As mentioned earlier, this song originally featured Cathedrals bass singer George Younce on the first verse. Now reworked into a baritone solo featuring Doug Anderson on the first verse (and tenor Ernie Haase on the second), this is a smooth rendition well suited for its selection as the first radio single.
  • “Champion of Love.” Though most regard this song as a classic, I am well aware that two readers vehemently despise the song. That’s all right; I can understand their viewpoint, and to each his own. More controversial, though, was the decision to splice George Younce’s spoken-word audio introduction from the 1995 Reunion CD/DVD into the track; some like it and others do not. (It’s safe to say that this track has generated more discussion than any other so far!) But it is one particular aspect of the arrangement that I find particularly intriguing: The soloist. Wayne Haun was never known as a vocalist prior to accepting the position of playing piano for Ernie Haase & Signature Sound; since going out on the road, though, he has quietly added fifth harmony parts. After “Reason Enough,” a song he co-wrote with Haase, hit the charts, he would sometimes sing a few lines on the encore in live shows. But this song is his first vocal feature—and he nails the rendition. I find this intriguing since the original rendition also featured a full-time pianist not known for vocal abilities and launched that individual, Gerald Wolfe, into a career as one of Southern Gospel’s most awarded vocalists. This is unlikely for Haun, due to his lucrative career as one of the two best orchestral producers in Southern Gospel; however, choosing him as the feature vocalist on this song is a subtle touch that reveals the level of careful planning that went into the project.

After “I Thirst,” the other obvious pick for a radio single is “We Shall See Jesus.” The song has never been singled to Southern Gospel radio (at least by a major group), and the new rendition brings enough to the table that the right promoter should easily be able to take it to #1.

The group has named their current tour the Influenced & Inspired tour, specifically featuring the songs on this project. All indications are that they plan to tour the project for at least a year, so there should be time to send at least three singles to radio. Since the two most obvious picks are both ballads, a third single would need to be uptempo. “Step into the Water,” “Boundless Love,” and “Movin’ Up to Gloryland” would probably be the three contenders. Of those, “Boundless Love” is certainly the rendition which brings the most new to the song; “Step Into the Water’s” well known radio history as the Cathedrals’ most successful radio single of all time would likely remove it from consideration.

Granted, had I been part of the decision making process, I would likely have swapped out a few songs and changed several arrangements. But such is the subjective nature of a tribute. All in all, though, this is a strong project, a worthy tribute to the group it honors.

Produced by: Wayne Haun. • Group Members: Ernie Haase, Devin McGlamery, Doug Anderson, Tim Duncan. • Review copy provided. • Song list: Wedding Music; Step Into the Water; Boundless Love; I Thirst; This Ole House; Champion of Love; I’m Gonna Live Forever; Can He, Could He, Would He; Wonderful Grace of Jesus; Sinner Saved by Grace; Old Convention Song; Mexico; God Delivers Again; Life Will Be Sweeter Someday; Movin’ Up to Gloryland; Plan of Salvation; We Shall See Jesus; Yesterday; Gentle Shepherd; He Made a Change; Oh, What a Savior.