Rating: **** (Very Good)
Song List: I’ll Be Ready; Where Is God?; Someday; He Paid the Debt For Me; My Heart Is Filled; He’s A Personal Savior; I’ve Found A Friend; Skies Of Blue; How Great Thou Art; I’ll Be Satisfied; I Won’t Have To Cross Jordan Alone; With A Song On My Lips.
For fans of: Greater Vision and the original Old Time Gospel Hour Quartet.
This is the strongest independently released trio project I’ve heard this year.
It starts with a song I’d never heard before, “I’ll Be Ready” by David Reece. Reece toured with the Harvesters and the Rangers, initially as a pianist and eventually as a baritone. Both the Harvesters and the Rangers recorded this song, but it is new to the Couriers repertoire. That a gem of this caliber could go so many years unrecorded is perhaps surprising–but proves the depth of this genre’s heritage. Those who seek will always be able to find forgotten treasures to make new again for today’s audiences.
The Couriers go to the early ’90s for the second song on the project, “Where is God.” This Kyla Rowland tune was originally recorded by Gold City in 1992 on their Pillars of Faith recording, and was also done a couple of years ago by Mercy’s Mark on their Southern Selections Vol. 2 project. It is nonetheless another song that will be new to a vast majority of their audiences.
Bass/baritone Tim Beitzel takes the solo on “Someday,” written by Lynn Swizinsky.
Another song that has been previously recorded (by the Blue Ridge Quartet on Ride That Glory Train) but will be new for most audiences is their fourth track, “He Paid the Debt for Me.”
“My Heart is Filled” features lead singer Brett Scarem and tenor Larry More. This Doris Akers tune was recorded by several groups, including the Blackwood Brothers and the Florida Boys, but has not been done for decades.
The sixth tune on the project, “He’s a Personal Savior,” is more familiar to Southern Gospel audiences, being done in recent years by the Gaither Homecoming Friends, Gold City, Legacy Five, and Palmetto State. Incidentally, it was also done by the original Couriers on their 1960s project Dave Duane and Neil. Tim Beitzel does an able job of handling both the baritone part and the bass solo lines.
Beitzel is also featured on the next song, an acapella rendition of the hymn “I’ve Found a Friend.” The hymn was also recorded by the original Couriers in 1963 (back when they were still a quartet), on their Honoring Jesus project.
Lead singer Brett Scarem wrote and is featured on the eighth song on the project, the uptempo number “Skies of Blue.”
Tim Beitzel is featured on “How Great thou Art,” which is inaccurately listed in the liner notes as being in the public domain. (It was copyrighted in 1953, renewed 1981.)
“I’ll Be Satisfied,” a classic Couriers tune written by Couriers pianist L. David Young, features Brett Scarem.
Pianist Tom Keel–who also produced the project–is featured on an instrumental version of “I Won’t Have to Cross Jordan Alone.” Since Glen Payne’s impromptu acapella vocal rendition of the song on the NQC Live 1999 project will probably never be topped, it’s not a bad idea to do it as a subdued instrumental.
The project closes with “With a Song on My Lips (and a Prayer in My Heart).” The song comes from the Blackwood Brothers’ repertoire; they recorded it in 1967 on a project named after the song. The song starts with a faux-LP introduction before breaking into CD-quality audio and modern instrumentation at the first chorus.
This project is one of the best examples I have ever seen of what a group without a great deal of new material can do by going into the archives and resurrecting forgotten gems that deserve another day in the sunlight.
I believed I promised fellow blogger John Scheideman that I would check out the Couriers someday. He promotes the classic Couriers as his favorite group, and the current Couriers as worthy successors. Now I know that his judgment–which has proven correct in so many other areas–was not misplaced here. The Couriers are currently traveling as a regional group in the northeast, far from the traditional Southern Gospel beaten path. From everything I have heard of other regional groups–some of whom are very good–the Couriers are probably among the five best regional groups in Southern Gospel today.