3:1 Reviews offer three highlights of an album and one area that could have been improved.
1: Production Quality: This two-disc, twenty-song set sounds incredible. Perhaps it stands to reason that baritone Michael Sykes, who has produced many of the Gaither Vocal Band’s most-acclaimed releases, would bring top-tier production quality to his own group’s album. He does; track and production quality is every bit as strong as you would find on a Gaither Vocal Band release.
What might be surprising is that the vocal performances are actually stronger. Tenor Matt Hagee and lead singer Aaron Crabb both come from family group backgrounds (the John Hagee Family and the Crabb Family, respectively), but both adapt amazingly well to the male quartet setting. Bass Tim Duncan has an almost unrivaled quartet resumé for someone his age; after spending three years as Poet Voices’ final bass singer (1999-2002), he spent eight years with Ernie Haase & Signature Sound (2002-January 2011). When it comes to ensemble sound, Canton Junction is easily in the top five in Southern Gospel (perhaps top three), and also easily the strongest on the progressive end of the spectrum.
In other words, in every aspect except song selection—an area where Gaither has an indisputable advantage by being the most prestigious Southern Gospel artist on the road today—Canton Junction is on par with or even stronger than the Gaither Vocal Band. That is no small feat for a brand-new group on its debut project.
2: Rusty Goodman remakes: Since Michael Sykes is Rusty Goodmans’ son-in-law (he’s married to Rusty’s daughter Tanya Goodman Sykes), it might not be terribly surprising that the album includes two Rusty Goodman songs, “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now” and “Who Am I.”
What might be more surprising is what he’s done with them. He has transformed both songs into straight-ahead, in-the-groove, driving quartet harmony songs. They sound like the versions he’s been waiting for a chance to make. He’s honed his skills producing the likes of the Gaither Vocal Band and the Oak Ridge Boys, and he uses those skills to reinterpret these songs for a new generation of fans.
3: Sweeter As The Days Go By: This live version of the song that got it all started for Canton Junction is a sonic delight. Canton Junction’s first (public, released) appearance was with this video—a performance so strong that it earned more than 80,000 views in a matter of months, practically unheard-of numbers in Southern Gospel. It was a pleasant surprise to hear the live version included here.
:1: You can have too much of a good thing: It is entirely understandable why the group recorded twenty tracks. Most groups need that many in their repertoire for live concerts. They probably figured that if they were going to record that many tracks anyhow, they may as well put them all into a two-CD set. Songs like “Dig a Little Deeper,” “Softly and Tenderly,” and “Go, Tell it on the Mountain” will certainly have their place in the live concert setting, but seem out of place here. But had Canton Junction selected the strongest ten or twelve tracks, this would have easily been a five-star recording.
In fact, SouthernGospelBlog.com has only handed out one five-star rating this year so far—to this album of Stamps classics. Had Canton Junction whittled the list down to the ten or twelve strongest songs, this album would have easily been the strongest recording of the year, to date.
Album rating: 4.5 stars.
Credits: Group members: Matthew Hagee (tenor), Aaron Crabb (lead), Michael Sykes (baritone), Tim Duncan (bass). Produced by Michael Sykes and Aaron Crabb. Mixed by: Pete Greene, Ronnie Brookshire, Steve Allen, and Nathan Zwald. Mastered by: Glenn Meadows. Engineers: David Young, Steve Allen, Robert Smith, Ron Fairchild, Brandon Shattuck, Mark Drury, Mark Capps, Nathan Zwald, Pete Greene, Grayson Rogers, Kendall Ryan, Marshall Young, Cary Smith, Jake Burns, Bob Clark. Assistant Engineers: Taylor Pollert, John Furr, Josh Papp. Digital Editing: Robert Smith, David Young, David Ponder. Recorded at: Difference Media, San Antonio, TX; Cornerstone Church, San Antonio, TX; Square One Studio, Franklin, TN; Sony Tree, Nashville, TN; Beech Creek Studios, Nashville, TN; The Tracking Room, Nashville, TN; Loud Recording, Nashville, TN; SoundShop Recording, Nashville, TN; Classic Recording, Franklin, TN; Sound Emporium, Nashville, TN. Piano, Keyboards: Gary Prim, Gordon Mote. B3 Organ: Gordon Mote, Justin Ellis. Drums: Steve Brewster, Scott Williamson, John Hammond. Bass: Duncan Mullins, Mark Hill. Acoustic Guitar: Joel Key, John Willis. Electric Guitar: James Mitchell, Kelly Back, Jeff King. Steel Guitar and Dobro: Steve Hinson. Harmonica: Randy Miller. Fiddle, Mandolin, Banjo: Bruce Watkins. Violins: Pam Sixﬁn, Conni Ellisor, Alan Umstead, David Davidson, Kathy Umstead, Karen Winkelman. Violas: Jim Grosjean, Elizabeth Lamb. Cellos: Carol Rabinowitz, Julie Tanner. Strings Arranged and Conducted by: Steve W. Mauldin. Strings Performed by: The Nashville String Machine, Carl Gorodetzky (Contractor).
Song List: DISC 1: I Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ For My Journey Now; Show Me Your Way; Heaven Is; The Son Shines Down on Me; Who Am I; Go Tell it on the Mountain; Coming Home; Softly and Tenderly; The Inviting Christ; My Savior’s Love. Disc 2: Sweeter as the Days Go By; You Are So Beautiful; What a Wonderful World; Glorify; Dig a Little Deeper in God’s Love; Going Home; Since Jesus Came Into My heart; In the Valley He Restoreth My Soul; Hold On; Smile.