CD Review: Imperials (The Lost Album)

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RATING: 4 Stars

Label: Word Records
Producer: Gary S. Paxton
Song Titles: “Sonshiny Day,” “New Creation,” “Earth, Our Island Home,” “Soon And Very Soon,” “We Are The Band, But He Is The Music,” “The World Didn’t Give It To Me,” “In The Same Old Fashioned Way,” “Closer To Jesus,” “I Love The Way You Love,” and “Sonshiny Day (Live Version)”

When the Imperials signed with Word/Dayspring in 1976, David Will and Russ Taff had just joined veteran vocalists Jim Murray and Armond Morales. According to the comments of Morales included in the liner notes, the group recorded an album’s worth of music with producer Gary S. Paxton and turned it over to their label head in early 1977. Word decided not to release the project, and sent the Imperials back into the studio with producer Chris Christian. The result of their second effort was a 1977 released project titled Sail On that included the popular “Bread Upon The Water” as well as the title cut and a critically acclaimed song called “Water Grave.” Sail On was the beginning of a label/artist relationship that lasted more than a decade and saw the Imperials ride the wave of the quickly expanding Contemporary Christian market throughout the 1980s.

If you believe the rumors, the original masters for what would have been the Imperials’ Word/Dayspring debut were lost for the past thirty years. Paxton and the label head presumably had a falling out, prompting the label head to decide the project wasn’t good enough to be the first release by the Imperials. The story continues that the Word exec used the 24-track master under his desk as a footstool. Before this review is over, I’ll debunk at least one portion of this conspiracy theory. It’s not possible that the entire recording was lost for the entire period of time because one song was released in 1981, four years after it supposedly became “lost.” Maybe other elements of the story are true. It certainly gives the project a sense of mystique.

In keeping with the legend, this project is titled The Lost Album. The CD contains nine studio recordings, closing with a live version of the opening track, “Sonshiny Day.” This track has a 1970s pop vibe, lighthearted with a straight eighth, un-syncopated rhythm. It’s the first of three songs that should already be familiar to diehard Imperials fans, since it also appears on Imperials Live (1978). I don’t have a copy of Imperials Live to make the comparison, but I strongly suspect the two live versions of “Sonshiny Day” are one and the same. The group is introduced with the words “Ladies and gentlemen, the Imperials” on The Lost Album version, and the song is positioned first on Imperials Live, right where you’d normally have a spoken introduction on a live recording.

The next track, “New Creation,” was also recorded in front of an audience for the 1978 live recording. I was able to reference the live version of “New Creation” on Legacy, a two-disc collection of 34 songs from the group’s “Word years” (1977-1988). “New Creation” was written by Russ Taff, and features Taff as well. Unlike the live version, which begins with a simple piano chord and Taff’s voice, the studio cut on The Lost Album has a Gregorian chant inspired intro, followed by strings before Taff enters with the vocal. It’s also pitched a half step lower than the live version and clocks in at nearly six minutes.

“Earth, Our Island Home” has a slow string accompaniment and a classic vocal jazz treatment. There’s some elaborate chords in this one. “Earth = island home” was a common metaphor in the 1970s following the emphasis on space exploration that began in the late 1960s.

Andrae Crouch‘s now classic “Soon And Very Soon” is up next. This was a brand new song in 1976, having just been introduced by Crouch & The Disciples on This Is Another Day that same year. The Imperials version has a brass driven accompaniment that may have inspired the arrangements of songs that came later for the group like “I’m Forgiven,” “Any Good Time At All,” and “Let Jesus Do It For You.”

Armond Morales takes the lead for one verse on “We Are The Band, But He Is The Music.” The vocal stylings on this cut are similar to “Earth, Our Island Home,” but more on the sappy side. This is the type of song you heard when you stepped on an elevator or walked through a department store in 1976.

“The World Didn’t Give It To Me” (written by producer Gary S. Paxton along with Bill and Gloria Gaither) is up next. Although the Imperials project was put on the shelf for nearly thirty years, an up-and-coming group called Truth recorded this song in 1977 on their album titled Not Just A Coincidence and sang it for years to come. I believe Gaither also used the song on a children’s project. The Imps version is pretty cheesy with a spoken “and that’s the name of that tune” at the end.

The next song on The Lost Album is the track that proves the album wasn’t literally “lost” for all those years. “In The Same Old Fashioned Way” was a popular concert number for the Imperials for many years. The track that appears on The Lost Album was also released in 1981 on The Very Best Of The Imperials. It’s a great song written and performed by David Will. It was so popular for the group that the Imperials re-recorded it twenty years later on It’s Still The Cross (1997, Big God Records), Wills’ final non-seasonal project with the group.

“Closer To Jesus” has the least amount of 1970s stylistic “baggage.” Featuring Taff, this track actually sounds like it could have been recorded recently. I don’t know if Word has considered pushing any of these songs to radio, but this cut would actually sound pretty good on modern Southern Gospel radio. Few listeners would suspect it’s thirty years old.

“I Love T
he Way You Love” is another track on The Lost Album that hadn’t been released as a studio version previously, but did see the light of day as a concert version on Imperials Live. It’s another showcase for Russ Taff…not his most memorable effort, but very good nonetheless.

The Lost Album stands up well considering the age of the recording. Is this album better than it’s supplanter, Sail On? No, it isn’t. Although the Imperials never really recorded any more songs like “Water Grave,” that’s an all time classic that helped open the door for groups like Petra and others of the wailing guitar/arena rock persuasion. “There Will Never Be Any Peace” took cues from Carole King‘s Tapestry, as did many other songs recorded in the 1970s. Of course, the songs “Sail On” and “Bread On The Water” speak for themselves. Even though The Lost Album contains several songs that would have made an impact, Sail On is a notch above in just about every way that counts.

So in retrospect, Word/Dayspring made the right call in 1977 when they told the Imperials, “Try again. You can do better.” That being said, I’m still delighted The Lost Album was finally given the green light.

(I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this review. It required more research than any article I’ve written since my book!)

 

Category CD Reviews

David Bruce Murray

David Bruce Murray is a church music director in Ellenboro, NC. He is the author of Murray's Encyclopedia Of Southern Gospel Music and the owner of both SGHistory.com and MusicScribe.com. David plays piano for Southern Sounds Quartet and the Foothills Community Choir.

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1 Comment

  1. Daniel J. Mount
    Reply September 09, 21:22 #1 Daniel J. Mount

    I enjoyed it! :)




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