Much like 1970, the year 1971 brought additional changes for the Downings, and along with those changes, we also saw the group releasing 2 more new albums. The first album being, “Once More…with Feeling”, and as the title suggests, it builds on the reputation of the Downings being able to churn out those slower tempo, heartfelt songs, which are plenteous in number on this album. In reference to the group changes, Linda Robinson and Danny Larson were gone by this point and Dony had returned to the group playing piano and Nathan McGee Peters (aka-Mac) was also on board as the groups’ bass player as well. Though Linda was no longer singing and playing for the Downings, she continued working for the Downings in their office and managing their publishing company.
“Once More…with Feeling” was produced by Bob MacKenzie and the orchestrations for this album were very similar to what we heard on the “This is the Day” album. It appears that the orchestrations were recorded once again in London and were arranged and conducted by Rick Powell. I love the colorful cover shot, along with the individual shots running along the bottom; this was early 70’s attire at its finest! As I alluded to a moment ago, this album is more slower paced than their previous few albums had been, but there are a couple up-tempo numbers interspersed here and there to break up the tempos, but the emphasis is definitely placed on those slower paced tunes.
Starting the album with a bit of a bluesy feel, Wayne Hilliard kicks things off with an outstanding rendition of the Andrae Crouch classic, “The Blood will Never Lose its Power”, which was probably the most popular song from this album. True to the title of the album, the Downings performance on the song exudes about as much feeling and emotion as any song could. It is my all-time favorite Andrae Crouch song, and the song became Wayne’s signature tune for the remainder of his time with the group. I love the Downings rendition of the song, but probably my all-time favorite version is by the Perry Sisters from their mid-90s recording, “Beside Still Waters”. Nonetheless, whoever sings it, it’s a powerful song!
Featuring strings and woodwinds along with horns subtly in the background, Ann sings the beautifully done, “Because He Loves Me”, which became one of Ann’s signature songs. Written by Alice Wilson and published through the Downings’ publishing company, the song is an emotionally driven tune and is one of my favorite performances by Ann, before the tempo picks up a bit for the medium tempo, “Put Your Hand in the Hand”. This song was a popular cross-over hit during this time and everybody was singing this tune, from Rock to Country to Gospel, and the Downings jumped on the bandwagon with their own rendition. Starting off slow, soon Paul steps in to sing a verse and eventually Wayne, Ann and Joy all step in with a few solo lines before the tempo picks up for the final choruses, which has Joy belting out the lead lines.
The tempo slows down for the steel guitar driven track of the Lanny Wolfe penned, “The One Left Behind”. Wayne does a great job singing this country-tinged tune, with its dramatic lyric giving out the warning for the listener to not “…be the one left behind”. As the song ends and the music stops, Wayne soberly declares, “Lord, don’t let ME be the one left behind” before the song fades away with some haunting piano licks and eerie sound effects that drives the message of the song home.
The Rambos were riding high with the success of the Jack Campbell penned, “What a Happy Day” and several groups were enjoying singing this song at the time, including the Speers, Statesmen, Couriers and Rosie Rozell & the Searchers. Here, the Downings churn out their version of this highly enjoyable number, which closes out this side on a happy note.
With the mournful strains of the steel guitar and tinkling piano fills, side 2 starts off with the Gaither classic, “There’s Something About That Name”. The song had already become a big hit for the Bill Gaither Trio by the time the Downings recorded it, and several other artists were singing the song as well including JD Sumner & the Stamps, Speers and Doug Oldham. Here, the Downings do a great job as Joy renders a fabulous performance on this heartfelt recitation, before Paul steps up to sing the Marion Easterling classic, “When He Reached Down His Hand”. Featuring a nice performance by Paul as he delivers both a warm performance and some nice low bass notes, it’s one of my favorite renditions of this great song before Joy picks up the tempo a bit for the encouraging lyric of the Lanny Wolfe penned, “Then Why the Tears”. Starting out slow with a bit of a blues feel, the tempo picks up by the time they get to the first chorus. When they get to second chorus, the tempo picks up even more and the song becomes a happy tune that you can clap along with.
Ann steps up next to sing one of my favorite Gordon Jensen penned tunes, “I’ve Got My Heart Set on Heaven”. This is probably my favorite song from this album and one of my all-time favorite Ann Downing features. I love the steel guitar accents and the warm feeling with this particular arrangement of the song. I also love how Ann sings the verses, as she is about a half step behind the meter, which is a great way to add emotion and pathos to a song. Ann was, and is, a pro at this and this song is a great example of that, before the album comes to a close with the medium tempo, ¾ time of “A Drink of Life”, which features Paul.
As I mentioned at the beginning, “Once More…with Feeling” was much more slower paced than their last few albums had been. The Downings had created a niche for themselves by singing a lot of slow, heartfelt type of songs, and while groups like the Happy Goodmans, Inspirations, Thrasher Brothers and others at the time were tearing up the stage with their barn burners, the Downings would hit the stage and completely change the mood of the evening and would still bring the house down, as evidenced with their next album, “This is How it is…Live!”, which came out later in the year.
Someone commented to me recently that they felt that their previous album, “This is the Day” had a nice flow to it, and I agree completely, and I don’t think “Once More…with Feeling” had that flow to it like “This is the Day” did. This album also didn’t yield any chart-topping tunes, but it did garner a few concert favorites that were included on their forthcoming live album that was recorded and released later in 1971. I will admit, “Once More…with Feeling” is not my most favorite Downings album, but I also think it lived in the shadow of the popular “This is the Day” album, as well as the enormous success of their soon to be released live album, which became one of their most popular and biggest selling albums. Being sandwiched between those 2 immensely popular albums didn’t allow this recording to shine as it probably could have; but nonetheless, it’s a good album and it featured some really great songs, showcasing all of the authenticity, feeling and emotion that the Downings were known for. As the title says, let’s all sing it “Once More…with Feeling”!
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Thought you might like to know that there were a couple of Canadian songwriters who contributed to that album. Gordon Jensen was born here in Canada and although he has lived most of his life in the U.S. he still holds a Canadian citizenship. Also Put Your Hand in The Hand was written by Gene MacLellan who lived most of his life here in Eastern Canada in the province of Prince Edward Island. He also wrote Snowbird which helped catapult Anne Murray into international fame. He did have some success with other songs. The Brothers recorded his song Come To The Saviour on their first album in 1979 and The Kenny Parker Trio recorded two of his songs, Elijah and Reunion in 1984 on their Keep On Singin’ Your Song album.
I had forgotten Gordon was from Canada. He was ahead of his time as a songwriter.