June 27, 2016
Ray Stevens Gospel Favorites: CD Review...
The CD opens up with a medley. Song one is a slight reworking of a song he wrote and recorded in 1978 called "Hiding Place". It's alternate title for this CD is "Everybody Needs a Hiding Place". It morphs into "I've Found a Hiding Place" (from the pen of Albert Brumley). Most of the recordings on the CD are at least 3 and a half minutes or nearly 3 minutes...a couple of them are pushing 4 minutes and the medley recordings are even longer. This causes the recordings that clock in at 2 and a half minutes to feel as if they breeze by too fast.
One of those recordings, "Rusty Old Halo", is a song about a greedy man and the singer imagines that the man will be greeted at Heaven's gate and given a rusty old halo and second hand wings full of patches for being less than generous.
Earlier I mentioned that some recordings on this CD had previously been released. One of those is Track 11, "Dropkick Me Jesus". Ray had actually recorded the song for his 2012 project, The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music. It's considered by some to be a religious novelty song and so he included it among the other comical/novelty songs he recorded for that multi-CD project. Track 10, "When The Saints Go Marching In", containing that glorious Dixieland arrangement and soaring vocal is from Ray's salute to the music and culture of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana in general. The recording originally appeared on Ray's 2007 CD titled New Orleans Moon.
Interestingly the title track of this 2016 CD, "Just a Closer Walk with Thee", appeared in abbreviated medley form on that New Orleans Moon CD but the version on this 2016 CD is a re-recorded, full performance of the song. In the realm of re-recordings there's "A Mama and a Papa". This song might only be familiar to hardcore fans of Ray Stevens (myself included in that category). It originally appeared on his first gospel album back in 1972, titled Turn Your Radio On, and it became a Top-5 hit on the Easy-Listening chart (commonly referred to as Adult-Contemporary today). Ray's updated recording keeps the original arrangement/melody intact...the only differences being his vocal and the contemporary instrumentation.
The album's closer is "Just a Touch of Jesus"...from the pens of Don Cusic and Ray's longtime collaborator, Buddy Kalb. I love the song and it's arrangement...it makes me think of those classic Elvis and the Jordanaires gospel recordings.
Does Buddy Kalb contribute anything else on the CD? This is something the devotees of Ray Stevens may be asking themselves. The answer is of course! A song that I hope becomes promoted as a single is from the pen of Buddy. It's called "Somethin's Comin" but it's also delivered within the song as 'Somebody's Coming'. It has one of those ear grabbing arrangements and of course it's peppered with some catchy lyrics...one of which is "some use his name as an expletive" or "some think it's the Chinese with a big financial bomb". It ends rather abruptly for a sing-a-long. Once you hear it you'll know what I'm referring to...but it still should be a song he should perform at his concerts.
The other song from the pen of Buddy Kalb is "Do You Hear Somebody Knocking?". This is a song about allowing Jesus into your lives and become born-again. "Once and For All", from the pen of Jerry Michael, is a song about the Crucifixion of Jesus. It's the one song on the entire CD that sort of breaks the southern gospel flavor of the project due to it being more of a conventional Hymn than a rousing, uplifting, foot stomping, hand clapping event...such as his cover of "This Ole House"...yes, the same song recorded by dozens of other artists over the decades but most popularly by Rosemary Clooney and the version by the song's writer, Stuart Hamblen.
All in all this is a fantastic gospel music CD and one that should become part of your collection. Ray Stevens fans, for sure, ought to purchase this but those that like to hear the kinds of gospel songs and arrangements associated with southern gospel music should also purchase this. It's great!! You can purchase the CD directly from Ray's on-line store by clicking HERE.