Take 2 Review: Kingsmen – They Don’t Know

Take 2 Review: Kingsmen – They Don’t Know

This past week, Kyle and Daniel introduced a fresh type of CD review, a “Take 2.” We’ll be doing these from time to time to allow another writer to react to a previous review or simply write their own independent review.

Under the microscope today is They Don’t Know by the Kingsmen, which Kyle reviewed three months ago. Click HERE to check out his original review.

Right out of the gate, They Don’t Know takes the Kingsmen in a new stylistic direction. “They Don’t Know” and “Keep The Lions Hungry” are closer to the driving, heavily compressed music Brian Free & Assurance has recorded in recent years. That’s not a good or bad observation. These two selections just may not be quite what you were expecting from the Kingsmen.

“God Calls It Grace” is an excellent ballad for tenor Josh Horrell, and Bob Sellers is strong on “Hear The Word Of The Lord.” With these two tracks, the CD glances at a territory of the musical landscape that is a little more familiar to Kingsmen fans, but “The Evidence I Need” swings back to a pop-ballad format.

At this point, someone in the studio must have suggested that the CD ought to include at least one convention song for old-time Kingsmen fans to enjoy. That song is Ila Knight’s “I’ll Sail Away Yonder.” Ray Dean Reese is granted a step-out line on each of the choruses. You really to notice this, because nothing like that will happen again for the rest of the CD.

“Cost Of The Cross” is another excellent pop ballad; “Let Go And Hold Fast” is another horn-driven up-tempo song; “Fade To Black” goes back to the pop ballad formula; “Don’t Underestimate God’s Grace” features some nice steel guitar work by David Johnson on a mid-tempo Country arrangement; and, finally, “Legacy” closes They Don’t Know with a slow B-3 organ driven arrangement and a lyric that acknowledges those who paved the way.

Before this CD was released, there were some funny comments circulating on Facebook about the title They Don’t Know. One exchange I remember is, “What is the CD’s title?” “They don’t know; I mean they DO know. They Don’t Know IS the title.” After hearing this CD off and on for the three months since it’s release, I would add “They don’t know they have a bass singer!” This is essentially a male trio recording with bass vocals thrown into the harmony as an afterthought.

Aside from the difference in tenor vocal tone, They Don’t Know sounds very much like a Brian Free & Assurance recording right down to the excellent ballad about the cross that we’ve come to expect on every BF&A release. Long-time Kingsmen quartet fans probably didn’t expect this much of a stylistic departure, but as I stated above, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I agree with Kyle’s rating of 3.5 Stars, but not his conclusion that the song selection on this CD is less strong than recent Kingsmen CDs. I like most of these songs, particularly “Cost Of The Cross” and “Don’t Underestimate God’s Grace.” I’m docking points because the vocal arrangements should have been more inclusive of all the singers. (WHERE’S THE BASS?) Also, some songs on They Don’t Know feel over-produced. The horn lines are somewhat distracting on the quicker tracks. A simpler approach to instrumentation would have allowed the lyrics and vocal performances to shine more effectively.

Producer: Jeff Collins
Label: Horizon Records
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Songs: They Don’t Know (What The Lord Can Do) (Kenna Turner West/Jason Cox/Tony Wood) – Keep The Lions Hungry (Regina Walden) – God Calls It Grace (Logan H. Peck/Megan Sorrell Mulnix) – Hear The Word Of The Lord (Lee Black/Marcia Henry) – The Evidence I Need (Kenna Turner West/Jason Cox/Dave Clark) – I’ll Sail Away Yonder (Ila Knight) – Cost Of The Cross (Kristi Fitzwater/Jerald Hill) – Let Go And Hold Fast (Regina Walden) – Fade to Black (Randy Crawford) – Don’t Underestimate God’s Grace (Sandy Knight) – Legacy (Marty Funderburk/Barbara Fairchild)

Overall rating
3.5 out of 5


3.5 out of 5

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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.

MusicScribe Comments

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  1. Reply July 01, 12:58 #1 Chris G

    Good review,Bruce. As an old-time Kingsmen fan I was disappointed with this recording. The song selection is not strong; there were only a couple of songs that had strong messages or had an outstanding sound. I had to really listen carefully to hear Ray Dean Reese.
    If I wanted to hear a trio with a contemporary arrangements I’d listen to Brian Free and Assurance. I know it’s all a matter of taste, but this one is not my cup of tea. 3;5 stars is generous, IMO.

  2. Reply July 04, 10:52 #2 Darrell

    Initially I hadn’t thought about the comparison between several songs on this Kingsmen album and recent Brian Free and Assurance material. But it makes sense the more I think about it. Sure not anything like the old Kingsmen albums – three chords and a cloud of dust. Sad to see Ray Reese pushed to the background on this album. Who knows what their next album will look like.

  3. Reply July 05, 15:22 #3 Brad

    If I’m not mistaken, Ray’s wife passed away during the recording of this album. I’m guessing that could be the reason why he is not featured. I seem to recall a video posted on Facebook of the other 3 vocalists in the studio and it was noted that Ray would record his part later. Also, Ray has plenty of features through the years, so its not like they needed multiple new songs to feature him in concert like they did with the new tenor singer.

    As far as the overall album goes, I am really enjoying this CD. I like the song selection and the style of this album (even though I agree that I would like more bass features). Many people seem to point to “Battle Cry” as the Kingsmen’s best album of the last 15 years or so, but I preferred 2011’s “Grace Says”. I think this new album’s style reminds me more of that album and that is why I like it.

  4. Reply July 05, 18:11 #4 Bob Sellers

    Just to clarify: There have been a few comments suggesting Ray being “pushed to the back” in reviews and/or comments (here and elsewhere) regarding this recording. Nothing could be further from the truth. There has never been a conversation within this group to that effect, nor has there been among our record company, at least as I am aware. Ray has been here 52 years. This was his 143rd recording with The Kingsmen. We younger guys are thankful to have Ray’s coat tail as the face of this ministry to cling to. That he wasn’t featured as a soloist on this recording is simply a result of the songs we all (including Ray) chose. We record songs that speak to our heart with hopes that they will also speak to the listeners’ hearts.

    The passing of Ray’s wife, Carolyn, of 42 years probably played some role in his being less involved in pre-production, however I think it’s worthy to note that the so-described “pop ballad”, “Cost Of The Cross”, is his favorite song on this recording and one that was added after we had settled on the ten we were searching for after Mrs. Carolyn heard the demo and loved the song. I can see how long-time fans may be disappointed that Ray doesn’t have a solo on this CD, but again, I just want to dispel any false rumors or innuendo of some conscious decision to push him back.

    And as far as song styles are concerned, we’re choosing from the demos we receive and that’s the style in which most songs today are being written. We’re really happy with the songs and with the diverse styles that are represented and hope maybe there is a little something for everyone on this CD. We aren’t trying to sound like anyone else or do somthing just because someone else did. We record the songs that we hear and like. “I’ll Sail Away Yonder” is a good illustration. We didn’t choose that song because someone at the record company decided we needed a convention song for old-time Kingsmen fans to enjoy. We simply heard Mrs. Ila Knight sing it and loved it ourselves! Hopefully our fans will, too.

    I appreciate the review and all that you guys do to help keep our music alive. We knew following up “Battle Cry” was going to be a tall order, but we’re extremely pleased and thankful with how “They Don’t Know” turned out. Personally, I give it a 5-star, but I am just a little partial. :)

    • Reply July 05, 20:41 David Bruce Murray Author

      Thank you for giving us a glimpse of the recording process, song selection, and other insights into this recording.

      I feel that the absence of a bass feature on a quartet CD is noteworthy regardless of whether it’s a group with a long history like the Kingsmen or a young quartet just getting started.

      That being said, I want to be clear that I made no type of speculation in my review as to the reason behind the decision to not feature Ray.

      Also, I get that the group selects the songs, but it does seem random to have just one song that sounds like it was written for the classic Kingsmen in with these other modern tracks. Maybe it’s just an odd quirk of mine, but I tend to rate CDs higher that have a more consistent theme, musically speaking.

      Of course, I’d never say a group shouldn’t choose their own songs, but it’s probably not a coincidence that my favorite Kingsmen CD of the past 10 years is _When God Ran_. I was told by a group member at the time that the studio chose the majority of the songs on that one, and pretty much had all the creative control when it came to the vocal arrangements, instruments, mix, and so forth.

      In the end and as always, my reviews are just one man’s opinion. The fans themselves will decide if this CD sells as strongly as past releases, and of course, the DJs will decide how high the singles go on the charts. I doubt my 3.5 Star rating will affect either one very much, but hopefully I’ve described the content well enough that a fan who occasionally buys Kingsmen CDs will be better informed before buying it. That’s always my primary goal in writing a review.

      Thanks again for taking the time to respond and clear up any potential misunderstandings. I appreciate what you do. If it weren’t for you guys and other groups like you, I wouldn’t have all this great music to enjoy and share with friends who have similar musical interests.

      • Reply July 16, 10:03 Bob Sellers

        I was referring to the overall feel of both the review and the comments in my clarification regarding Ray and the bass part.

        As far as choosing the songs to record goes (us vs. record company), it’s worth noting that we were completely autonomous in selecting the songs for “Battle Cry”. Obviously we value the opinion of the folks at our record company, but that particular album was group financed and group driven from start to finish, and from a charting standpoint became the most successful in the group’s 60-yr history. It also features quite a variety of styles (contrast “I Know” with “It Should Have Rained”!). The label was a little more involved with this (“They Don’t Know”) recording, but we still have the final say on song selection. (I can’t speak for “When God Ran”, as I wasn’t around then. Speaking of, that was also pretty progressive for a Kingsmen cut, but it worked out pretty well!)

        Personally, I actually prefer the overall song selection on “They Don’t Know” to “Battle Cry”, but I love them both and feel we were blessed to have been able to cut them. As you said, it’s all personal opinion. I’m just glad you guys still care enough about what we’re doing to take the time to review it.

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