On Friday, November 27th, 2020, StowTown records surprised SG fans by releasing a digital remaster of a long-out-of-print record by the Cathedrals, Smooth as Silk. This album, originally released as a table project in 1979, is noteworthy for being the first full album* to include Kirk Talley on tenor, Steve Lee on baritone, and Roger Bennett on piano. It also includes an early version of “I Know A Man Who Can,” which would be recorded a year later for Word Records and become a signature song for Talley.
This album was released under StowTown’s ongoing Vault Series, which began with two later-era Cathedrals releases, Radio Days, and Live! Deep in the Heart of Texas, and has grown to include other artists such as the Greenes and Ann Downing. The main difference between the previous titles and Smooth as Silk, however, is that the latter has never been given a wide retail release.
Southern Gospel fans have long expressed enthusiasm for having older albums available for streaming, and without the expense of manufacturing product, streaming is turning out to be a great platform not just for added mileage, but for making previously-out-of-print projects available for a wide audience at a relatively low cost.
Some fans may remember back around 2002, when Todd Payne’s Cathedral Records released several similar Cathedrals titles under the banner, “Cathedral Quartet Unreleased.” Titles at the time included Cherish That Name, Greater, and Individually, which (like Smooth as Silk) were previously released in the early 80’s, only available directly from the Cathedrals as table projects, and never on CD or digital formats. These particular titles were released prior to streaming becoming the primary method of mass music consumption, however, and with Cathedral Records shuttering after a few years, those titles are once again out of print with no digital distribution.
That is, apparently, until now. With StowTown’s direct access to original Cathedrals-owned masters (through co-founder, Ernie Haase), we may very well see future such releases make their way to the modern market. Haase once related to me several years back that such projects were indeed in the works. I would imagine we could eventually see further table projects such as Telling The World About His Love (Mark Trammell’s first record with the group) and Distinctively (Danny Funderburk’s debut), as well as the no-longer-unreleased titles mentioned above.
Unlike Cathedral Records, however, StowTown has the added advantage of being distributed by Sony Music. Sony is the current owner of Provident Music, who likewise controls the Heartwarming/Benson catalog. The Cathedrals recorded several albums under the Benson label, which means StowTown could, in theory, have access to the masters for such fan favorite albums as Live in Atlanta, Symphony of Praise (which was remastered and released by Sony in 2005), and Land of Living.
The question then becomes, does StowTown focus on the Cathedrals fan base, or do they continue to grow their Vault Series with other artists? Having Triumphant on their roster means they could potentially strike a deal for some of their earlier table projects. Heck, even Haase’s own Signature Sound could show in the Vault series (their debut release, Stand By Me, is still one of my personal favorites).
If this Vault Series proves to be successful, might we see similar releases from other artists and/or labels? I’ve already seen Greater Vision releasing some of their early projects to streaming markets, and Legacy Five recently made a deal with Scott Godsey’s new Godsey media to put their entire back catalog on streaming platforms dating back to their debut recording in 2000. I’ve also seen some budget labels releasing some older Kingsmen table projects, however, there has been little to no remastering done for the digital format.
At any rate, this is an exciting release for Cathedrals fans, and I think I can speak on behalf of all us when we say, MORE PLEASE!!
*For the purists/nit-pickers out there, Keep On Singing, originally released in 1979 prior to Talley and Lee joining, was recut with those two after their joining the group, but it is unknown if that was done before or after Smooth as Silk; since that album was a vocal recut of an existing product anyway, that makes Smooth as Silk the first official release for those members. Please don’t blow up the comments about which was first.