For several years, I’ve been hearing good things from the West Coast about a group called the Liberty Quartet. They are off of the beaten path most Southern Gospel groups travel, but they’ve charted their own way to a full-time ministry on the West Coast.

Their success doesn’t come from producers and record companies shaping their sound. Bass Royce Mitchell, the only founding member of the group still on the road, has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in music and did vocal arrangements for this project. (Mitchell isn’t the only group member with formal music training, either; baritone/pianist Doran Ritchey took a piano major and vocal minor in Bible College and tenor Keith Waggoner earned a BA in Church Music.)

Since this was a hymns project, I didn’t come into the review process with high expectations. Even the good hymns projects tend to use either arrangements straight from the hymnal or familiar earlier Southern Gospel arrangements. But after hearing Liberty Quartet sail effortlessly through more chord, time signature, and tempo changes than a typical mainstream group on a major label release, I found myself hoping that their projects of new songs could measure up.

Project highlights include renditions of “Jesus Saves,” “My Savior’s Love / And Can it Be,” “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Soldier Medley.”

Bass Royce Mitchell is featured on “Count Your Blessings” and “No Not One.” His daughter Jenna does an uncredited guest appearance on “Blessed Assurance.” Tenor Keith Waggoner’s sole solo on the project is on “Trust and Obey.” Baritone/pianist Doran Ritchey is featured on “My Savior’s Love/And Can it Be?” and “I Will Praise Him/Doxology.” Lead singer Dan Gilbert, who has a powerful and dynamic voice that reminds me of Arthur Rice, is featured on “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” “Soldier Medley,” and “Crown Him With Many Crowns.”

Liberty’s careful attention to detail shows in the project’s packaging. They get the little things right, like listing the author and copyright information for all songs, even those in medleys, and listing group members. (A surprising number of groups forget that detail.) The CD itself is unique; its surface not only looks like an EP record but feels like one. The grooves were convincing enough that I almost put it into my record player to see if it would play.

After the good reports I’d heard about the group, I was slightly apprehensive about introducing myself to their music through a hymns project. But after listening to it several times, merely saying that I am impressed by this tour de force is a considerable understatement.

Rating: Highly Recommended. (5 stars of 5)