My journey with Liberty Quartet started several years ago, when I started hearing good things about them from a number of west coast friends (particularly John S. in California and Elysse B. in Idaho). At the time, I chalked up the rave reviews to local pride. So when I met them at NQC 2007, and they gave me a copy of their hymns CD,I politely thanked them, and promptly put it in my stack of CDs to review . . . at the very bottom. It ended up being December 2007 before I got to that CD—and promptly gave it a five-star review.

But no matter their talent level (or if they are full time), it’s not easy for a group that is literally off the beaten path to attract top-notch songs from top-notch songwriters. Between producer Phil Cross and then-baritone/pianist Doran Ritchey, they managed to come up with a number of strong songs on each project, but not enough to equal that five-star rating.

Until now.

The Journey proves that creative and progressive don’t have to be synonyms in the Southern Gospel thesaurus. Instead of relying on soundtracks to create a fresh sound, Liberty does it with their vocal arrangements. When was the last time you heard someone put a fresh spin on “He Came Down to My Level?”

The project starts out with the title track, easily one of its most memorable songs. The song is kicked off by an “almost exotic” drum solo (hat tip, Aaron Swain [EDIT, 2/22/13: Broken link removed]), before piano and orchestra kick in to carry this uptempo track along.

Nine of the twelve tracks are new songs. Besides “He Came Down to My Level,” the other two classic tracks are “Till There Was Jesus” by W. Elmo Mercer and “Welcome to Heaven” by Phil Cross & Carolyn Cross English. The latter track is a straight-ahead big ballad featuring lead singer Dan Gilbert that isn’t remarkably different from the Singing Americans original. But in this case the old adage “if it ain’t broken don’t fix it” applies, and it should be a concert favorite for the group.

For a second straight recording, Liberty Quartet and a major east coast group both simultaneously cut a Rodney Griffin song. With Amazed and Triumphant Quartet’s Everyday, it was “Amazed at the Change.” For this project, Liberty and Tribute Quartet both cut “I Love Living In Grace.”

Former Liberty Quartet baritone / pianist Doran Ritchey was still a part of the group during the recording process; he contributed five of the project’s songs and did a guest solo on “The Welcome.” He has since left to be a part of Phil Cross’ musical endeavors (including the group “Crossing”), but hopefully he will continue to send some of his best tunes to Liberty.

This project introduces new Liberty Quartet baritone Jordan Cragun (who, as has been mentioned before, is Kim Collingsworths’ nephew). He is featured on “I Made it Mine” and “In the Day of the Lord.”

Keith Waggoner unfortunately only had one solo, on “He Came to Me.” Bass and manager Royce Mitchell is featured on three, “He Came Down to My Level,” “Till There Was Jesus,” and “Too Long.”

Lyrics are included in the CD booklet. One would think this would be default in a lyric-driven genre, but unfortunately, it’s not, so it’s worthy of mention.

This project easily earns Liberty Quartet another 5-star rating—their second on this site, and first for a recording of new songs.

Rather than just write about it, though, I have received permission from the group to feature several tracks in the flash player for the month. So , for the remainder of this month, enjoy “The Journey,” “In The Day of Our Lord” (featuring Jordan Cragun), “God Made a Way” (featuring Dan Gilbert), and “Till There was Jesus” (featuring Royce Mitchell).

Rating: 5 stars. ♦ Average song rating: 4.33 stars. ♦ Group members: Keith Waggoner (tenor), Dan Gilbert (lead), Jordan Cragun (baritone), Royce Mitchell (bass). ♦ Produced by: Doran Ritchey, Phil Cross, Roger Talley. ♦ Review copy provided. ♦ Song list: The Journey; He Came Down To My Level; I Made it Mine; I Love Living in Grace; Till There Was Jesus; God Made a Way; He Came to Me; The Welcome; Too Long; He’ll Come Through; In the Day of the Lord; Welcome to Heaven.