An Evening with the Legends of Quartet Live
By Bob Marovich
Malaco Records and its 4 Winds subsidiary are the main standard bearers for gospel quartet singing, a style that once dominated the gospel charts but has since fallen behind mass choirs and small choirs in radio play and album sales.
But unlike their secular peers in vocal harmony who retired and only gather for PBS retrospectives, many gospel quartet singers from the golden age are still working the road, albeit with groups comprised of new personnel.
Some of the lead singers from quartet’s golden age gathered last February, in fact, for the taping of Malaco’s An Evening with the Legends of Quartet Live. Among the participants for the CD/DVD spectacular were Spencer Taylor (Highway QCs), Rev. Thomas Spann (Brooklyn All Stars), Jo-Jo Wallace and Horace Thompson (Sensational Nightingales), Willie Rogers (Soul Stirrers), Clay and Cleve Graham (Pilgrim Jubilees), and Percy Griffin (Swanee Quintet).
Accompanied by contemporary gospel musicians and a house quartet comprised of Darrell Luster, Milton Lynch, Mario Smith, Ray Braswell Jr., Sonny McClary, and William Purvis, the legends step up to the center mike. Not always by themselves, either: there are several delightful mashups on the project, as when Griffin and Rogers duet on “Dr. Jesus,” an up-tempo rouser with fetching guitar riffs.
Spann seems to have the most fun during the evening. When he isn’t leading “Let Me Lean on You,” he’s encouraging Sonny McClary on the Brooklyn All Stars’s classic cover of Alex Bradford’s “Too Close.” You can hear Spann’s booming bass interjecting occasionally on other tracks, also.
The album’s most poignant moment is when Rogers and Taylor, a Stirrer and a QC, team on “When the Gates Swing Open.” Like Thompson and Wallace’s “I’ll See You in the Rapture,” also on the album, “Gates” conjures up the memory of those who have gone on to Quartet Heaven.
Yes, the singers’ voices have mellowed and yellowed over the years, but each puts his heart and soul into the performances. The only missing element is the sound of a rambunctious quartet audience, whose shouts of encouragement and occasional screams of spiritual ecstasy add greatly to the electricity of a live quartet performance. Nevertheless, it is a treat to hear (and in the case of the DVD, see) the masters still at work.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “Dr. Jesus,” “When the Gates Swing Open.”